The Safety Department, Inc.

How to Choose a Safety Consultant

What To Look For:
Some things to consider when searching for a safety consultant

Academic Qualifications
Academic degree programs in safety have exploded over the last two decades. As in other areas of higher learning, these programs vary significantly in quality and in their applicability to the outside world. And like all degree programs, their value tends to fluctuate over time with the normal comings and goings of faculty and administrators. Unless you are knowledgeable in the academics of occupational safety instruction, as well as the current reputations of the various university safety faculties, mere possession of a safety degree should not be granted too much importance. Of greater relevance is “real-world” experience and results. When education and experience demonstrate a proven track record, it’s the best of both worlds.

Professional Organizations & Memberships
This is another potentially confusing area for the average business owner / decision-maker. While some organizations and professional designations are highly reputable and require documented credentials for membership, many are latecomers with questionable standards. Are you comfortable that you can discern the differences in the “alphabet-soup” jumble of associations and designations?

Even if a consultant has credentials, are they applicable to your particular needs? Is an environmental expert acceptable to develop injury prevention strategies at your business? Does a medical doctor have appropriate experience to ensure your compliance with the OSHA forklift standard? Can an insurance actuary effectively evaluate your confined space entry procedures? Does a salesman adequately comprehend your liabilities under the OSH Act?

Businesses should always determine, not only the authenticity of a consultant’s professional designations, but also the appropriateness of the “ABC’s” following a name on a business card, for the specific task at hand. Just as with academic credentials, only those who are knowledgeable should assign any significance to these claims. Ultimately, there is the valid argument that initials after one’s name, or membership in a safety association establishes very little about a consultant’s proven record of delivering worthwhile, usable advice.

On-the-Job Experience
Examine the consultant’s work history. Look for evidence that they have previously dealt with problems similar to yours. Think in qualitative terms about the type of problems you’re experiencing, without focusing too narrowly on the consultant’s background in your specific business type. A capable safety consultant can easily transition among many different industries in applying sound principles of safety management.

Do they have both depth and breadth of experience in assessing occupational safety problems? Can they explain their diagnostic strategies & techniques? Do their remedies logically address the situations that they describe? Can they document their results? Ask to see examples of their work.

Does their experience indicate satisfactory knowledge of both the technical aspects of safety management as well as the “human” factors? Do they have a history of dealing with all levels of people in an organization?

Finally, how long have they been consulting? Does it appear that they chose to consult voluntarily? Or did they lose their last safety position and are just marking time till they find another job inside a corporation? In other words, will they be around to stand by their consulting advice next year…or even next month?

Clients & References
Who are their clients? Are they known to you? Are they established companies? Don’t hesitate to ask for contact names and phone numbers for current (and former) clients. Follow through on contacting them. Avoid placing undue weight on any single recommendation. Seek a balanced, overall assessment of the previous work. A great indicator of a valuable safety consultant is when a former employer becomes a current client.

The professional safety consultant cares enough about his business (and the client’s) to protect it with, at a minimum, $1,000,000 of professional liability and $1,000,000 of general liability coverage. He will willingly produce certificates of insurance as evidence of this. (*NOTE – Legitimate certificates are sent directly from the insurance carrier to the client, NOT provided by the consultant. Anyone with a copy machine and a bottle of “white-out” can phony-up certificates of insurance.)

Will they solve your problem?
Certainly, there are never any guarantees for this question. In fact, the astute businessman should be extremely wary of the safety consultant who “guarantees” that his work will produce a given dollar result. Besides, from an implementation standpoint, as much depends on the client’s commitment as on the consultant’s expertise. Nevertheless, some basic preparation in selecting a consultant can maximize the chances for success:

Explain your problem thoroughly and listen closely to the answers. Do the answers appear to match your needs? Are various approaches presented that allow you to choose the most desirable option? Are these approaches consistent with your goals and corporate culture? Does the general strategy make sense ­ financially, legally, and ethically? Is it consistent with your company’s values?

Do they speak plain English or do they frequently fall into jargon? If you can’t understand what they’re saying, what good is their advice? Any low-level “techno-nerd” can recite passages from OSHA Standards. The true skill is in understanding and applying them to a client’s individual circumstances, and in translating the “legalese” for the client. Intimidating people into compliance doesn’t solve problems. It requires no talent and doesn’t actually change anything. A competent consultant should be expected to accurately and succinctly explain safety requirements in everyday language and the ways that compliance can benefit the business.

Do they discuss the details of your particular problem or do they seem more interested in selling you a “one-size-fits-all, off-the-rack” solution? “Template” approaches are occasionally what a client needs, and are normally less costly than a fully customized approach. But you should always look for a consultant’s willingness to adapt to your needs and your company’s culture.

Finally, do you like them?
Perhaps this isn’t the first issue to resolve, but it remains a valid and important question. Admittedly, “liking” can make consulting advice more palatable. But from a practical point of view, getting along well with a consultant has an impact on the entire project. Personal relationships influence the quality and the quantity of information the consultant can extract in diagnosing a client’s problems. “Likeability” can drastically affect a solution’s effectiveness during implementation. A client should feel comfortable with the consultant, trust their advice and look forward to working with them.