We all have opinions about outside consultants who come in and assess safety programs regarding compliance with OSHA standards. Most opinions range from “Who are these guys telling me what I should be doing?” to “They’ve never done the work, so why should I believe what they’re saying?” and everywhere in between.
Bringing in a third party, however, does have its positives. It is an opportunity for an objective set of eyes to evaluate procedures and help maintain and achieve compliance with OSHA regulations. It also, if structured properly, gives you a sounding board to discuss your program, share ideas you have to modify or change some of the things you’re doing and gain a fresh perspective in general.
Remember, the third-party assessor has no skin in the game. They are there strictly to determine if what you are doing complies with the rules. This presents a unique opportunity to solidify what you are currently doing and give you the push to convince your management—if you are falling short—that there must be a greater investment. Improvements can range from additional training for line crews, safety staff, and other management; adding additional PPE and specific tools; or changing work procedures to make the job more efficient and safer. It could even warrant additional staff. It depends on what the objective is and what you plan to do with the results.
To get value from the outside assessment, you need to structure it as a multistep process. Before the third party ever steps foot on the work site, I recommend that you forward them a copy of the work practices and training programs that will be covered in the assessment. This gives the assessor the opportunity to review procedures, ensure that training covers the necessary focus points and starts to give them an overview of work practices. It also lets them develop any initial questions that can be addressed prior to coming on-site.
Second, schedule field visits to observe the work practices and crews.
Third—and this can be optional—set up small focus groups so the assessor can sit with the work crews and discuss what they are thinking. This phase is done outside the presence of management or supervisory personnel, affording the opportunity to have an honest and open exchange of information. Crews can voice their concerns or ideas without fear of retribution, and the assessment staff can explain what their objective is and what can be gained from the experience.
Finally, the assessment should include a recap with senior management and a follow-up report that outlines the findings and any recommendations that will improve the organization’s compliance with OSHA standards.
This four-step process can be modified to meet the particular needs of the organization based on time, cost and specifics. Some companies opt to do only the first step and have a third party conduct a “desk audit” of the procedures and training to ensure that they are doing what is required.
Other organizations elect to use three steps, leaving out the focus groups, to get a deeper look at their program. Reasons for not including the focus groups are time and scheduling conflicts, not wanting to create an opportunity for a gripe session, an existing understanding by management of what employees think and cost.
The choice is yours, but to benefit from the full value of a third-party assessment, you should consider incorporating as many of the structured elements into the process as possible, including the focus groups.
While, on the surface, a third-party assessment may seem like an inconvenience and intrusion into your company, there is tremendous value in taking an objective look inside the organization that can make it better and more compliant with OSHA standards.