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Examples of bad, poor and good external health and safety advice

Bad advice

HSE prosecuted one of the bigger consultants over an asbestos survey. The case was against an asbestos consultant following work at a film studios in which heating contractors were exposed. The survey failed to identify obvious presence of lagging, which was removed by contractors.

An independent consultant on paper looked well qualified, with board experience and Chair of a local H&S group for many years. He did a risk assessment for a company that was not "suitable and sufficient". Following a serious accident on a machine HSE prosecuted both the company and H&S consultant. The company pleaded guilty but the consultant would not accept any causal link between the accident and what he accepted was a poor risk assessment. There was a Newton hearing that he lost. Since the case the consultant has ceased trading.

A Local Authority (LA) prosecuted a company after a fatal accident. The company had employed an external consultant to provide a documented health & safety management system. The greatest failing was that the company failed to implement the system in any format. However, the consultant audited the company against their system on a regular basis and neither party identified that there was no risk assessment for the work activity involved in this particular incident - work at height. Both the employer and the consultant (under caution and informal discussions) appeared to be quite ignorant of the priority areas on which LAs focus, despite the size of the consultancy and the employer was unaware of their responsibilities to implement the system, that the consultant had developed.

Poor advice

A consultant did work for a company that manufactured refrigerated vehicles. One of the problems at the company was that despite making a vehicle that was moved around site as part of their process, there was no risk assessment for transport risks. There were, however, assessments for the kettle, toaster and confectionary vending machine in the mess room.

Risk and COSHH assessments were provided for a small commercial vehicle maintenance business that used isocyanate paints. HSE was initially concerned by questionable working practices so asked to see some paperwork. Although there technically were COSHH assessments, the one for isocyanates was a folder with 30 pages of information - including their risk assessment for ladders and welding. HSE was not able to find any reference to the risk of occupational asthma from isocyanates. Subsequently, HSE met the consultant and asked about his qualifications - which included 20 years working for a paint supplier - but there was no NEBOSH diploma, certificate or health and safety qualification. HSE queried how he dealt with the risk of occupational asthma from the isocyanates and was immediately corrected and told that they were wrong, that isocyanates don't cause asthma - they in fact cause cancer!

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 an H&S survey at the college which resulted in a list of specific issues which required attention but it did not address any of the fundamental H&S 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.

Good advice

This particular consultant has a very down to earth approach and is known to turn down work if he thinks the company/client are not taking him (or Health and Safety) seriously. He tries to guide companies through their own assessments rather than offering to take everything on for them. He has assisted companies that HSE have prosecuted, but this has always been done in an honest and open way.

This consultancy gave general advice tailored to the activities of the company, indicating that the consultant had spent time with the business to understand what they do, and had not just printed an 'off the peg' document.

Sources of advice

There are a number of different ways you can get advice. These include:

The Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR) provides an up-to-date list of general health and safety advisers who have who have a qualification recognised by the professional bodies participating in the scheme.

If you require general external health and safety advice, you can search the register for a consultant by industry, topic, county or keyword(s).. For further details, see:

The Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register (OSHCR).

If, however, you are looking for specialist help, consider using our Information of sources of advice page.

2014-02-21