A health & safety consultant has been fined for providing technical health and safety advice to clients when not qualified or competent to do so.
The Court heard that the self-employed consultant provided poor and inappropriate advice to small and medium sized businesses on complex risks including hand-arm vibration, hazardous substances and workplace noise.
The consultant was fined £1,400 under Section 3(2) of the health & Safety at Work Etc. Act for failing to correctly identify risks and appropriate control measures, resulting in inadequate remedial action being implemented. Employees therefore continued to be exposed to potentially damaging levels of vibration, noise and hazardous substances, which could impact on their health.
The HSE said, ‘Where consultants are found to be in breach of legislation, HSE will hold them to account for their failings’.
Whilst these cases are rare, they do our profession no favours. Small and medium-sized businesses rely on external consultants for their health & safety advice, especially in complex areas such as noise and hand-arm vibration.
Consultants have a responsibility, as their clients’ ‘competent person’, to recognise their own limitations, lack of knowledge or experience and be honest about them. The clue is in the title: competent: the ability to carry out a task well and effectively.
It is also important that companies do their homework and satisfy themselves that a consultant has the appropriate competence – training, knowledge, understanding, experience – to properly support their health & safety profile, as they would for any contractor.
Companies should look for membership of a relevant professional body, such as IOSH and IIRSM, which set professional standards for members and operate continuing professional development schemes. The consultant should be registered with the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR), which allows companies to search for a consultant and view their qualifications, experience and any specialisms. Obtaining references or testimonials from other clients is also recommended if companies want to get it right.