A respected professional colleague recently wrote a Blog entitled ‘Is what you don’t know putting lives at risk?’; referring to the work of a pair of American psychologists named Dunning and Krueger who established around 15 years ago that the least capable people were far more confident in their own abilities than genuine specialists.
He related it to the fact that having a professional Health & Safety Consultant review your workplace Health & Safety arrangements was an eminently sensible thing to do, because they are a specialist at such work, whereas the employer usually isn’t.
Naturally, I fully agree with him. But there is a further layer of due diligence which is required by the employer; that of making sure that the Consultant they engage is also not suffering the Dunning-Krueger Effect!
Within the UK, in some professions, such as Medicine, Law or Financial Services, there is legislation to prevent somebody trading or practising unless qualified to do so; unfortunately, Health and Safety isn’t one of them.
Anybody can call themselves a ‘Health & Safety Consultant’ and they might easily sound very confident; another example of the Dunning-Krueger Effect!
There are unfortunately a few individuals working as ‘Health & Safety Consultants’ who are very much suffering from this affliction.
A few years ago, I saw a website which listed the qualifications of a ‘Fire Risk Assessor’ as including 3 separate NEBOSH* Certificates, yet they were not qualifications I immediately recognised. After a few moments, the penny dropped and I soon confirmed my suspicions. This individual was listing the 3 individual Units of the basic National General Certificate in Occupational Safety & Health as separate qualifications. That’s like having an A Level in Maths, yet claiming each examination a a separate Maths qualification.
Not only was the individual deluding themselves that they were suitably qualified to conduct Fire Risk Assessments, they were deceiving their clients, the employers who had engaged them; thus potentially placing people at significant risk of injury or death. Fortunately, that business no longer exists and the individual appears to have retired.
In another example, on visiting a prospective new client, I asked them what their previous, now retired, consultant had done for them. They produced a handful of documents, consisting of a few risk assessments and a very brief site audit, dated some 2 years previous. But when asked for a copy of their Health & Safety Policy, they didn’t know what I was talking about. The keystone document to their entire health and safety management hadn’t been produced. Needless to say, the few documents that they had were not worth the paper they had been printed on.
An initial step towards ensuring that you are engaging a suitable consultant is to check their membership of a professional body, such as IOSH* or IIRSM*. Other professional bodies exist, which are more relevant to narrower fields of work, such as Fire Safety or Ergonomics.
Members of professional bodies are bound by their rules for continuing professional development and working within sensible experience and knowledge parameters, providing a degree of assurance to the potential client. But even then, these organisations have different grades of membership, which reflect the individuals combination of qualifications and experience; such as Associate, Technician, Member, Chartered Member etc. Therefore someone simply stating ‘I’ve got my IOSH’ (or any other set of Capital Letters) is not an indication of suitability to support a client! In fact the misquoting or misrepresentation of a professional body in such manner should set alarm bells ringing.
One big step towards displaying due diligence as an Employer, is to use a Consultant from the Consultants Register, which was established in response to the Government’s 2010 Common Sense, Common Safety report.
But even then, ask your prospective Consultant how they feel they can support you, what experience they can bring to your organisation and how they might resolve it’s potential problems. You cannot absolve yourself of legal responsibilities simply by engaging an external Consultant.
if you would like information about safety in your workplace, what you should and should not be doing to keep safe, please contact Belvoir Safety Services.
Bernard Carey is a Chartered Occupational Safety & Health Practitioner, specialising in providing practical and proportionate support to small businesses.