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What do you really pay an EHS consultant to do?

Most employers may from time to time need the services of a “professional” EHS consultant to do some work for them. Often the work done may look professional and the price tag too, but when you actually analyse what was done, say during an audit, it becomes obvious that it was a very costly window-dressing exercise.

In the 30 plus years I have consulted with clients on EHS regulatory compliance, I can probably recall  a hand-full of companies, where the consultants actually “created” something of value. But there is one particular incident I vividly remember, and I use it frequently during my Legal Compliance workshops.

Company A employed a full-time Safety Officer to enforce their legal compliance policy on their supply chain. Company B was one of their contractors and it was also my client.

Company B has been struggling for some time to get their H&S File approved. I read the file and immediately saw why they struggled. My first question was “how much did you pay for this file?” and the answer did not surprise me at all. R4 500 was the going rate. “You should not have paid more than R150 I retorted. R50 for a ream of paper, R40 for the file and R60 for “delivery”.

Because that was the only value it had. Everything in the file was searched on Google, copied, pasted and sold as “professional intellectual property.” The employees who signed the “legal appointments” did not even know what they signed, as it is “just something we must do to get the job.” The owner too, did not realise the legal ramifications of working under contract with irrelevant information.

To put it in perspective, it was a telecommunication installation contract under FIDIC and the Construction Regulations applied. The H&S plan was one of an University somewhere in the USA and the copy of the “OHSAct” was the Australian one. Useless information for R4500?

And that is what happens daily in South Africa. EHS consultants are no longer “consulting and advising”. They are selling a standard product at a premium price. The only difference is the colour schemes and logos and one have more expensive binders or lever-arch files. It gets trashed in any case so why bother how it looks.

Pay for Consulting, or buy a product.

Most  privvi-seal certified H&S consultants will disagree with me, but a decent File product can generate 30 files in 30 seconds. You just need to pay for it online.

They will disagree because the file must be “Site specific”. Yes, 30 files in 30 seconds and all thirty will be “site specific”. Here is how.

In the H&S plan a sentence reads as follows:

“John Soap has been appointed in writing to inspect all ladders once a week.”

What are the “site specific” variables?

“{name} has been appointed in writing to inspect all {equipment} {frequency} a {time}.”

File two will then read:

Peter Pan has been appointed in writing to inspect all vehicles three times a day.

Each sentence in the H&S plan can be written like that, and any advanced MS Office user can set it up.

George Washington has been appointed as the Construction Manager for the site located at 34 Proes Street, Pretoria, and will report directly to the Client representative of Easy Pie Development Projects (Pty)Ltd.

Once again the 5 “site specific” variables are

{Name}, {Title}, {Address}, {Client_name}, {Client_company}.

And so on.

You can do the same with a risk assessment, a safe work procedure etc. It just takes a good sized MySQL database and a lot of development time. Add to it an online form the contractor needs to complete to provide the variables and an email integrator and the “Site or project or risk specific file” can be sent to your inbox in pdf format in 30 seconds. You can even send a copy to your client and the Construction Permit Application can be delivered to the DOL.  All in 30 seconds.

If you have sufficient band-width on your servers to allow concurrent connections, 30 or more clients can complete the online form at the same time. 30 files in 30 seconds.

Then you have a product worth R4500.


So why pay for a consultant?

Professional EHS consultants know that time spent with their clients will give them the insight to understand the client’s business first of all. These individuals will educate themselves first to understand your needs and will have the professional ethics to advise you to “rather buy a product” if all you need is an H&S File.

They will also advise you that EHS compliance is a choice. Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence suggesting that companies with no compliance will have accidents at work. The opposite is true that companies with high accident rates can reduce it by developing a compliance program, but there are companies that have been operating for decades without accident and never had a DOL inspector visiting them. Most of these company owners are adamant that it is not worth spending all that money on a consultant for something they never needed before.

Compliance is thus a choice. Just like life- or funeral insurance. You will need it one day. Until then, it’s your choice.

If you do make the choice to call a consultant and ask for help, make sure they understand your needs before giving you any advice. A serious client will always ask something along these lines:

“I (not we) want to implement an EHS compliance program for our company, but have no idea where to start. Can you come and see me?”

It is a choice made by the CEO. And that is where EHS compliance starts. At the top. If “we want it”, the CEO may have been forced by the Board of Directors, and reluctantly made the call. This reluctance will show up later during the process when he/she shrugs off all involvement.

Business objectives must be profit driven.

All businesses have one thing in common. To make a profit. Not all reach that objective, but that’s not the point. EHS compliance must be profit focused. “Don’t start with a risk assessment” is something you will never hear. But I say that now. Don’t. Well, do, but not.

And I say “do” but not with an EHS risk assessment. Start with a loss-risk assessment. Where are you losing money right now?

Energy, waste streams, inadequate production lay-out, dilapidated or unsuitable premises, low through-put, high maintenance costs, high staff-turnover? These are all stress factors on your business. One sentence to avoid at a Board meeting is the one starting with “please explain to me…”.

And when you start addressing these potential loss generators, you can start integrating your EHS program at the same time. You now have a foundation for change. You can start doing things “differently” to make more profit.

Business objectives must be customer driven.

In most cases the end-user could not care less about how hard you work, or how many people you maim and kill to provide low-cost high-speed internet or to produce a canned food product for under R5. They want value for money, that’s it.

But as we have so often seen in Consumerism, a demand for ‘green’ or ‘healthier’ products could change their buying patterns. Consumers tend to be “brand specific” although the cans of pilchards under various brand names contain fish from the same shoal, caught in the same ocean, at the same time with the same fishing boat by the same company.

If you can therefore add a “logo” to your label that says “No animals were harmed during the making of this film”, your product appeals to a rather large segment of the market. Well, it may not work for that Saturday “Braai pack”, but you need to identify the consumer’s moral demands.

We recently introduced the Carbon Tax Act, to reduce Hot House Gas Emissions, but the media is still chatting away about “load shedding”. “We want electric lights; not environmental rights.”

In the Business-to-business market it is a different kettle of fish.

Here the primary goal of EHS compliance is to minimise Third-party liability.

Company A did not approve the H&S File of Company B, because it failed to show “competence to do the work safely and without harm to the environment”.

Show them you can do it.

An EHS compliance program which are specifically designed for your business will assist to demonstrate your ability to minimise third-party liability. It will attract more business, larger contracts, change your CIDB grading etc.

But you need professional assistance to get there; not get duped into believing your “stuff is in order”. It never is if you weren’t in control of the process.

I recently saw a report on a flammable liquid store indicating it is “compliant”. The store had all the safety signs and fire fighting equipment, but had a roll-up garage door as entrance. Perhaps they only kept a jerry can of petrol in it, but it was the first item I noticed. No steel door, no bund wall to contain spillage and no ventilation. (Maybe it was behind the roll-up door?).

In defense of CEO’s, I must admit that it is not paramount for them to know all of this, but, when engaging a consultant and relying on their knowledge and acting upon it, one must be damn sure to get the real deal. Spending time with a consultant will quickly surface inadequacies.

“But the Act says…”

No it doesn’t. Too many EHS consultants and advisors use this phrase in ignorance and convincingly so too, I must agree. The Act does not say you must appoint an employee to inspect anything. Some regulations may, but the Act doesn’t. The legal duty on the CEO or business owner is to “provide and maintain”.

It is not the employees’ job. It is not an employee’s job to administer first aid. It is the job of a person with a valid certificate in first aid, like a service provider. It may be an employee if you so decide, but it is not a legally imposed requirement. It is only a more practical and affordable solution to ensure compliance. This is just one example of many, where the view of the consultant may deter you from your own objectives.

What does the law say? How can we get around it? If not, how can we make it work for us instead of against us? Make sure your consultant has the legal skills to provide you with legal advice or consult a legal practitioner as well. In larger companies, the company secretary or compliance officer normally have law degrees and can assist.

Don’t sweat the small stuff

There are many “requirements” presented in most EHS programs, but the bulk of the contents are the quick fixes. Paint the floors green and the walkways grey and the employees will immediately see how serious you are about “safety first”. Wrong!…

The employees will think you are wasting money you could have spent on a better increase. Ask them.

If you don’t have the knowledge, ask a consultant to help you decide which EHS program is ideal for what you want to achieve. There are quite a few in the market of which ISO45001 is the most recognised.

That reminds of a discussion I once had with the manager of a stevedoring company. “We have to do it like that because ISO said so.” Once again, the consultant drafting the ISO documents, used creative license to write a procedure contrary to how things were actually done at the company. And that is the big difference between an EHS program based on facts vs fiction.

Say what you do, and write down how you do it.

One of the oldest tricks of the trade of a EHS consultant or practitioner, is the Planned Task(or Job) Analysis.

This is one of the most effective ways to identify hazardous (unsafe) behaviour when performing a specific task. And the idea is then to create a training program and standard operating procedure that will “Skip” that hazardous behaviour. But, depending on the task, it could add an hour to your bill if you get a professional to do it. Industrial engineering and Work Studies (Time and motion) are disciplines long forgotten in the EHS profession training curriculum, yet add to countless unidentified potential losses. The most common are ergonomic risks.

Why does the operator remove her safety glasses during the operational cycle? Is it because she cannot read the red display on the control panel through the yellow lenses?

These are only a few examples from my personal experience I shared to show you what you should pay a professional consultant to do. I trust it will assist you to re-evaluate the reasons behind your EHS thinking in future. Just because a consultant have a nice looking “competency” certificate which most people believe is the one and only, does not mean they have the skills, knowledge and experience to be a Professional Consultant. There are quite a good number of highly qualified specialists working as an EHS consultant in South Africa (“specialists” with a lower-case S  is a specialist by education and experience, not job title).

But be prepared to pay for what you want; not what you get.

This article was written for Sheqafrica.co.za by Rudy Maritz of Le Roux Maritz & Associates. It may not be applicable to your country.

Jessica van Zyl
Jessica is the Editor in Chief of Sheqafrica Corporate Services (Pty)Ltd's Media Office and has 17 years experience in Technical Publishing. She worked for a number of small online magazines until 2018 when she became a Legal Researcher at Le Roux Maritz & Partners. Shortly afterwards, she was seconded to SACS as editor of Sheqafrica.co.za as part of her portfolio.