Many small companies. pride themselves on being able to make a decent job of many of the management tasks associated with running their business.
Lots of these jobs go on behind the scenes, so while customers may see the obvious work of the company, making widgets, or packing ready meals, the other side of the business, such as recruitment, pay-roll, and health and safety go on largely unseen.
Of course, it’s possible to outsource these tasks, and many large companies do just that, but it’s less easy when there are only half a dozen people in the company altogether. Some of the slightly larger companies who don’t believe they have the expertise in-house to manage Health and Safety have turned to consultants for help, and there is nothing wrong with that. Certainly it’s a lot better that ignoring the whole issue and hoping it will go away, or ploughing on with a lot of mistaken and out-dated ideas, doing things the hard way and maybe hating every minute of it.
There is a third way though, open to those companies who strive to be self-sufficient as far as they can, and want to know how to achieve it. It’s fair to say that there’s no way you would aim to do your own house maintenance without a basic set of tools, and while you may be happy to do painting and decorating and a few other repairs, you might draw the line at fixing a ridge tile or digging out a blocked drain.
In a similar way, many small businesses have equipped themselves to take on a wide range of Health and Safety management jobs, such as manual handling and DSE assessments, first aid and fire marshalling, workplace inspections and equipment monitoring. Though some tasks, which we might call Specialist Tasks, such as the Fire Risk Assessment, electrical testing, and more technical jobs relating to asbestos or legionella are often seen as beyond the competence and capacity of the management or workforce. Frankly, this is usually the right call.
Probably the most important step down this road is to get some initial advice from a competent person. At this point it should start to become clear which tasks are going to be kept in house, and which to be ‘contracted out’, though this initial call may be subject to revision at a later date. The second step is to ensure that the company does indeed possess the skills to carry out these jobs effectively, and where the skills do not currently exist, to go about acquiring that competence. Our competent person should be able to help with making this assessment, and probably also in developing the skills that are needed. It’s worth noting that many small companies possess people who are ready and willing to develop these skills, but never had the opportunity before. It’s also important to remember that in-house staff have insider knowledge, and in many respects are better placed than any outsider, however competent.
Obviously, any Competent Person, a consultant perhaps, is going to charge for their services, and so the larger the share of the tasks that can be done in- house the less the cost. But these tasks will only work out to be a saving in the long run if they are done properly, and so the initial assessment is vital. Having said that, once the workforce within a company start to gain in confidence and experience, and know that they have somebody to turn to for advice ( the Competent Person again) they will be well on the way to self-sufficiency, accepting that the Specialist Tasks will probably remain beyond their remit. It’s one of the signs of competence to recognise one’s own limitations.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that the responsibility for managing Health and Safety will rest with the Employer, obviously so for those tasks performed by the in-house team, but also in the selection of the Specialists and the Competent Person.