Blog: Do I need a safety consultant and if so, how do I choose one?

Stagesafe’s Chris Hannam has discussed the role of the safety consultant, and how to choose one.

Health and Safety management can be a minefield for the uninitiated and the last thing you want is to hurt anyone or breach the law and when you’re trying to run your business or event, health and safety is probably the last thing you want to get involved with but it’s essential that you do, not later when things are quite but now, visits from enforcing authorities and accidents tend to happen at the worst possible times such as when you’re busy with other important matters or when you can least afford to have another problem or cost.

Regulation 7 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 requires:

7.  (1)  Every employer shall, subject to paragraphs (6) and (7), appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions and Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2006.

It is important to bear in mind that the legal duty to safeguard the safety and health of workers lies with the employer and cannot be passed on to an outside consultant. Simple situations may only require understanding of relevant current best practice, awareness of one’s own limitations and a willingness and ability to supplement existing experience and knowledge but more complex or highly technical situations will call for specific applied knowledge and skills and this is where we have a problem in the event industry as many consultants do not understand what is considered items in everyday use including structures, rigging, power generation and distribution, special effects etc.   

The person or persons appointed can be employees of the organisation or external consultants or advisors; the term “officer” is rather pompous and is reserved for enforcement officers from the Health and Safety Executive or Local Authority.

Remember, the law expects you, the employer, to manage health and safety and have auditable safety management systems in place in the same way you manage the financial aspects of your business or event, your safety adviser has a similar role in safety management as your account does in the financial running of your business or event, he needs to conduct inspections, audits etc. Your responsibilities for Health and Safety cannot be passed to your safety consultant or adviser; they are simply advisors with no further responsibilities, just like your accountant.

I am still continually amazed at the number of artist managers, prompters, tour and production managers who do not involve safety consultants with their tours or events, at best many depend on just assembling a collection of random risk assessments and insurance documents from their suppliers and trust in luck, some seem to forget a band or artist is a business and subject to the same regulations as any other business.

Less professional and voluntary run events and those events that have less formal management systems and/or do not follow normal event industry methodology and terminology are unlikely to use a safety consultant or if they do they don’t use them correctly.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 states that employers are solely responsible for ensuring staff and contractors appointed are competent, and are given adequate information and support. A problem with many of the new and up and coming festival events is that they are run by armatures who think they can appoint contractors and let them manage the technical production and deal with all the numerous safety issues.

You need to use investigative means to ensure the health and safety competence of the staff and contractors you intend to appoint as you are responsible for their safety and must provide them with a safe system of work, a safe place of work and safe work equipment. Every month there are prosecutions where clients falsely believe that contracting out work is the same as contracting out liability, where responsibilities between clients and contractor (and sub-contractors) are not defined, where accidents occur and, in most cases, client fines are higher than those paid by contractors. 

I must stress, contracting out work does not mean the same as contracting out liability.

The biggest mistake, and the one most often seen in our industry, is employers who select staff and contractors by their experience and “can do attitude” or because they are a well-known and large company within the industry and are considered as one of the good companies, this is not always the case and simply obtaining risk assessments and method statements is not considered to be properly assessing competence, a good consultant will help you assess your suppliers correctly, before they are appointed.  

The law also says that the person appointed to advise on health and safety needs to know and understand the work involved, with the principles of risk assessment and prevention and current health and safety standards and legislation. The employer must ensure that anyone they appoint is capable of applying these things to whatever task they are assigned.

The consultants role lacks any power or authority and that lack of power or lack of management authority to make changes is a very disappointing part of being a consultant, you’re in a powerless position when you know things need to be done and it is a somewhat disturbing and frustrating part of the job.

In reality our role is to assist in document preparation, attend planning meetings and to simply to advise the client on how to be legally compliant as well as bringing any problems and issues that may arise to the clients attention and sometimes act as a buffer between the client and the authorities, we like to inform clients of potential problems before they come to the attention of the authorities.

The truth of the matter is so many companies or events, hire consultants and end up wasting both their and the consultant’s time, either because of the inadequate management structure for their event, the fact they really do not know how to use the consultant or (very sadly) they only want to show they are compliant (to an extent) by having a consultant but have no intention of taking any notice of them. This is costly time.

When you do that, it’s sort of like buying that piece of exercise equipment, putting it in the corner, never using it, and then saying, “It didn’t work”.

There are now hundreds of people and businesses claiming to be event safety advisors, many have inadequate or no qualifications, little experience and inadequate insurance, perhaps the worst mistake a potential client can make is to select a consultant simply by price alone, the way to think is how much a consultant can save you when things go wrong not how much the cost and an inexperienced consultant will save you nothing.

First check that any consultant or adviser is experienced and specialised in the event industry, it’s no good selecting one that has no idea of the industry methodology or terminology, or has no idea if a truss is in fact assembled and rigged correctly! Ask how long they have been working in the event industry and specifically, as an event safety consultant.

They should be able to provide a list of previous events and work of a similar nature they have worked on, many of the good ones will have previous experience as production managers. The list should demonstrate a wide range of experience in all the main disciplines and dealing with all the hazards likely to be encountered.

Unfortunately there are a number of qualified consultants who have no idea about dealing with temporary demountable structures, power generation and distribution, rigging, work at height, special effects, crowd management, in other words, the main technical disciplines in the events industry so they are of little use.

As well as a list of jobs they should be able to provide a range of references, the references should cover work similar to the proposed work and not just character references. Your consultant or advisor must be independent, for example your production manager or production company should not double up as your safety consultant or advisor as that is a major conflict of interest and should not be tolerated, for an event, your safety consultant or advisor should have no other job function.

Are they able to commit enough time to your needs? What is there availability?

Check your prospective consultant holds one of the following qualifications:

  • The British Safety Council Diploma in Occupational Safety and Health
  • NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
  • Post-graduate Diploma in Health and Safety
  • NVQ Level 5 or above in Occupational Health and Safety

A Technician, Associate or Affiliate with hold a lesser qualification such as:

  • British Safety Council Certificate in Occupational Safety and Health
  • NEBOSH National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
  • NVQ Level 3 in Occupational Health and Safety

A Technician, Associate or Affiliate is a person who only carries out health and safety duties are part of their normal work and are not considered professional consultant qualifications. Additional levels also exist such as Chartered Member or Fellow but be warned of the Occupational Safety and Health Consultants Register – OSHCR, it will identify only Chartered or Fellow consultants only and will give no indication of their experience (if any) within the events industry.

Your proposed candidate should also belong to an event industry trade association (such as the Production Services Association) and be a member of one of the two professional institutes such as the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM) or the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) and are able to use one of the following designates after their name: MIIRSM, FIIRSM, Grad IOSH, CMIOSH or FMIOSH. The designates “Tech IOSH” or “AIIRSM” are for certificate level members and not for professional advisors or consultants.

The next check is to see they have adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance, ask them for a copy of their insurance certificate, does it cover they type of work they intend doing?

Almost there, now can they provide any required staff health and safety training such as safety passports and fire safety?

If you approach a large company, make checks on the individual who will actually be doing the work for you, you don’t want the junior on his fist assignment, and get them to confirm you will be dealing with same person continually; you don’t want to explain details of your project or business every time a different consultant arrives.

Remember, check experience, qualifications and insurance. Don’t settle for lower standards.

 

Chris Hannam. 

Stagesafe Health and Safety consultant.    

www.stagesafe.co.uk   

07831 437062