Think HBR

Why engage a Work Health & Safety (WHS) Consultant?

Bernie de Vries
BDV Safety & Compliance Solutions
In any midsized to larger business a critical member of staff is a qualified Safety Professional. At times this person also has additional responsibilities including aspects of Return to Work,
Environmental & Quality Management.
In smaller business safety invariably becomes the reponsibility of the business owner or a nominated manager/supervisor.
The fundamental role of the Safety Professional is to provide the business owners and/or leaders (its “officers”) with sufficient expertise to ensure the health and safety of all persons affected by the business activities while complying with all relevant legal and regulatory requirements.
Why then in difficult economic conditions when finances are tight and you have a competent Safety Professional as a member of your team would you consider the added expense of utilising an independent WHS Consultant?
There are two compelling reasons for doing so.
Firstly, you may have a health and safety issue in an area that your in-house safety expertise is deficient or non-existent.
Safety Professionals, particularly those with tertiary qualifications are expected to be experts across multiple fields including but not limited to ergonomics, occupational hygiene, safety system development and/or auditing, legal compliance, training, assessing, mentoring, RTW Coordination, Workers Compensation, accident investigation, safety engineering and risk management all while producing informative and interesting monthly reports for management.
These are unrealistic expectations. This is not meant to be a criticism of Safety Professionals but rather an acknowledgement that they are generalists who have particular areas that they are better at than others. The challenge is to acknowledge their limitations and seek external assistance when in the best interests of the business.
The business should and would expect nothing less from their Safety Professional and accept that not every problem can be solved by two days of training or attending a conference or seminar.
The challenge is giving their Safety Professional the support to allow them to make this call.
Secondly, the due diligence obligations of the business “officers” require that they are across all safety issues and requirements and can verify that the business is complying with what are at times complex and apparently contradictory legal and regulatory requirements.
This requires an independant and objective assessment (by way of a formal audit) of the safety performance and compliance of the business. Audits cannot be undertaken by those with ownership or an interest in the subject matter. Try spell-checking of a multi-page document.
Much like the use of a financial auditor, the purpose of a Safety Auditor is to reasssure the business of its safety performance and compliance and identify non-conformances before they become business critical (resulting in an accident or regulatory noncompliance).
The audit report can assist the business in meeting both its primary duty as well as the due diligence obligations and your safety professional in identfiying both opportunities for improvement and WHS priorities.
It can also identify areas where additional external assistance may be required.
When to engage and how to chose an external consultant are topics for another day.
For further information contact BDV Safety & Compliance Solutions on 0428 899 484, email
Bernie de Vries Bernie de Vries
Bernie de Vries is the Principal Consultant of BDV Safety & Compliance Solutions based at Bolwarra. He has a background in Workers Compensation (Coal Mines Insurance), personal injury litigation (Arnold Lawyers) and Safety Leadership (Cadbury Schweppes and Newcastle City Council).