What is the OSHCR?
The Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) is now open to the public and ready for businesses to use, but will this mean that potential clients will use the register as a guide to determine if they are employing competent consultants?
OSHCR is a register of consultants who can offer general advice to UK businesses to help them manage health and safety risks. Businesses are now able to search the database for consultants according to keyword(s), county, industry or topic, free of charge. The register applies to individual consultants and not to the consultancy itself.
The law says that all businesses must appoint someone competent to help them to meet their health and safety duties. Dependent on its size and complexity, a business could appoint one or a combination of:
- the business owner;
- one or more of their workers
- someone from outside the business.
To manage health and safety successfully you need to know that what you are doing is necessary, sensible and proportionate for your business and the register is intended to help in cases where you may require a consultant. Therefore, the OSHCR enables employers to find a consultant with relevant experience through the ability to search different categories and providing a profile of each consultant that matches the search.
The HSE and a network of professional bodies and stakeholders have been working together in partnership to develop this register and they have agreed that a minimum standard should be set for consultants to join the register. This is intended to help employers know that those consultants on the register have been assessed and met the minimum standard set by the professional bodies that they belong to.
This minimum standard has been set at a degree level qualification, at least two years experience and active engagement in a continuing professional development (CPD) scheme. All consultants who join the register are bound by their professional body/ bodies code of conduct and are committed to providing sensible and proportionate advice.
Our view of OSHCR
At the moment we are not convinced but were swayed to join some of our consultants onto the register because of the potential that the register will be able to be referred to by HSE and Local Authority inspectors when they recommend consultants to businesses.
If the register (as intended), over time, becomes the norm for companies to find a suitable health & safety consultant, then this would perhaps drive out consultants without the necessary qualifications or experience. However, from what we've seen, just by reaching say the level of Chartered Health & Safety practitioner does not always ensure the consultant is actually competent in the field they are being employed. We have heard only recently (March 2011) of a Chartered consultant providing a noise assessment using a £40 noise meter from Maplins - not the competent level of advice a client should expect!
The HSE has stated that it will remain the responsibility of the duty holder (employer) to ensure both the suitability of the consultant they employ and that the advice they obtain is competent advice. Given this, small businesses groups have commented that a scheme without a guarantee of expertise may prove to be worthless.
Each business should be asking a number of questions before employing consultants, based around the following:
- Is there evidence of relevant training/knowledge, such as formal qualifications?
- Does the specialist help have practical experience of your industry/activities?
- Can they explain to you why they are competent to advise you on this particular problem?
- Is the specialist help a member of a professional body?
Examples of the results of employing the wrong consultants
The HSE has on its own website a number of case studies where employers received poor advice. These include:
- A large consultancy firm in the UK worked with a college. This company do not do risk assessments but provide guidance to occupiers on how to assess risks. HSE were unhappy about the forms given to the college to record the assessments. The consultant also undertook a Health & Safety survey at the college which resulted in a list of specific issues which required attention but it did not address any of the fundamental Health & Safety management issues that the college had. HSE issued an Improvement Notice on the company for failing to ensure that their consultants were adequately trained.
- A frozen food distributor was advised by a Local Authority to get an ergonomics specialist as they had manual handling/ergonomics issues. They employed a consultant who had previously specialised in food safety. However, the risk assessments produced did not relate to their business and had numerous references to hotel and catering activities (which were not carried out by the frozen meal distributor). The risk assessments had clearly been 'lifted' from another premises and were not suitable or sufficient.
How MESH can assist
At MESH we believe that it is of primary importance to build trust with our clients and this can only be achieved through providing consistent proportionate advice that both assists in achieving legislative compliance but also makes the workplace safer in a manner that is sensitive to the individual business needs.
At MESH we pride ourselves not only on our technical knowledge of Health & Safety but also our experience on how to apply that knowledge. Because we only use the best consultants we are sure that our clients will get the best advice available.
If you think your business requires a sensible and proportionate approach to health and safety then why not take a look at some of the comments from our clients?