How competent is your health and safety advisor?

Organisations have a legal duty to ensure arrangements for a competent person are in place, that the competent person is able to conduct their duties and has sufficient training and experience to perform their role.
Occupational health and safety officer in factory
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Regulation 7 - Health and safety assistance (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.

As an employer, you must ensure that any individual performing a task on your behalf has the competence to do so without putting the health and safety of themselves or others at significant risk. This also includes the appointment of a ‘competent person’ to help you meet your health and safety duties, whether acting as an employee and external advisor.

Over the past 20 years here has been a steady increase in awareness regarding the professional responsibilities of the competent person. With such expectations a number of prosecutions have occurred for incompetent advise given by health and safety advisors.

  • Keith Whiting, appointed as a consultant by Prior Scientific Instruments for seven years to provide health and safety advice, failed to identify the health hazards of working with trichloroethylene, resulting in a paint sprayer becoming ill and unable to work. Whiting was fined £1500 with £1000 costs.
  • Richard Atterby also appointed as a consultant to George Farrar (Quarries) to provide health and safety advice and carry out risk assessments for more than three years. Following an investigation of a tipper truck accident by HSE inspectors they identified several health and safety failings, including employees exposed to silica dust. Atterby had failed to identify the hazard in his risk assessments. Atterby was fined £1000 plus £700 costs.
  • Consultant Steven Jones, appointed by Miskelly Brothers to provide risk assessments, failed to identify a serious crushing hazard of a block strapping machine. Jones was fined £4000.
  • Peter McCormack issued safety certificates for bouncy castles and other inflatables, despite their dangerous faults and receiving a prohibition notice stating that he could not and should not inspect bouncy castles and other play equipment and issue safety certificates. McCormack imprisoned for 14 months
  • John O’Rourke appointed to deliver fire risk assessments for David Liu two hotels. Nottingham Fire and Rescue Service identified serious deficiencies at both hotels, including inadequate or locked fire doors, substandard alarms and untested extinguishers, they issued prohibition notices to prevent the accommodation being used. O’Rourke had failed to identify in his risk assessments. O’Rouke imprisoned for 8 months and ordered to pay £6000 in costs.
  • Alan Ager, safety manager for Chelmsford-based firm Power Testing Ltd failed to carry out a suitable risk assessment that resulted in two workers receiving burns from a flashover whilst fitting cables in the back of a capacitor. Ager was fined £2500 and ordered to pay £5500 in costs.

Many of the companies employing their advisor were also prosecuted and received fines.