Why too much auditing is bad for your health (and safety)

Imagine… you’re at home cooking up a meal for your partner…suddenly the door swings open and in strides the two Masterchef judges who begin to mercilessly tear apart your technique and then the finished product (if you’ve ever watched the TV programme, it’s possible…even with beans on toast) .

For a start, you might think this is a little unfair – you were being judged by a standard that you knew nothing about.

But then you’d probably recover, spot the opportunity and want to learn what you could from these experts. Unfortunately, time’s run out. They quickly leave and promise to send you something that’ll make it all clear how to improve.

Two weeks later you receive a hefty 1960’s ‘Everyday Cookbook’, along with an equally hefty bill. You leaf through it, finding it a little uninspiring, and then make a small change…maybe adding a little cheese to your beans on toast.

A year passes, and the same thing happens – the judges dash in, point out that you’re not very good, and promise to send you something that’ll help: more recipes follow, and another bill.

Now you’re starting to get a bit annoyed: ‘How can they judge me, when they have the knowledge and capability to actually help me to improve?! (AND I’ve given them my money)’

So it is with some H&S consultancies, focused as they are on annual visits and  ‘auditing’, and not so much on ‘helping’.

OK, now might be a good time to define our terms. Strictly speaking, an ‘audit’ is a check against a set of standards – but crucially, it should be against standards that that the business has agreed to live up to, or is working towards.

Taking a simple example: Fire Safety.

The ‘Fire Safety Order’ sets out certain standards, and requires businesses to conduct a written Fire Risk Assessment – a kind of ‘self-audit’. So a consultant should be asking to see the Fire Risk Assessment, and if one hasn’t been produced, looking to help the Client to put one together.

You may instead be presented with a report containing a long list of missing fire protection elements (‘extinguisher missing here, smoke alarm missing there etc. ). The business is still left needing to do a thorough Fire Risk Assessment – sometimes at extra cost – as well as putting the missing fire safety elements in place. So the consultant’s ‘audit’ just told you what you probably already knew.

…and so it is with all the other H&S Regulations.

The conclusion for businesses?

Well, if you know that your Health & Safety arrangements have lagged behind and need improving, don’t sign up to consultancies that offer very little time with you and whose focus is on annual ‘audits’ – you’ll make very little progress.

An audit should produce a ‘gap analysis’, but it doesn’t equip you to fill that gap (and if you ask for an annual gap analysis, you’ll be annually not equipped!)

Any consultant worthy of the title will be able to analyse what you need pretty quickly – and then lay out a clear path to helping you improving your compliance.

This isn’t just at arms-length by  ‘sending you a report’ or giving you  ‘access to a helpline’, but should be a proper partnership agreement which involves enough face-to-face time to get you up and running. You’ll fare much better when the time comes to commission an audit because everyone has had a chance to skill-up to meet the agreed standard.

Like in the Masterchef programme itself, if people are lacking in skills they aren’t just criticized, they’re given hands-on  coaching as well…and that’s the heart-warming bit.