Internal vs. external health and safety resource: The pros and cons for organisations
To outsource or not to outsource, that is the question, and it is one every organisation must answer when considering their approach to the management of health and safety.
All UK entities must appoint a competent person or persons to take on health and safety duties. This competent person must have the knowledge and experience to recognise hazards and help put sensible controls in place to protect workers and others from harm. Ideally, they will also have real enthusiasm for maintaining health and safety.
Who to appoint depends on the size, complexity and risk level of the organisation in question. For those where the risks are low it may be that an existing employee can be appointed with a little training and without excessively adding to their workload. If, however, the organisation is larger and in a medium to high-risk industry, there are two main options. They can employ somebody internally to fulfil this role, or they can partner with a health and safety consultancy. At Havio we’re naturally slightly biased towards the second option, but the truth is there are positives and negatives with both solutions, and the right approach ultimately depends on the individual contractor’s needs, priorities, and company culture.
To help organisations make the decision that’s right for them, here are some of the pros and cons of working with both internal resources and external consultancies, starting with the cost.
Comparing the costs
On a cost per hour basis, employing an internal resource will inevitably be cheaper than outsourcing to a third party. The salary of even the most qualified and experienced health and safety manager is unlikely to come close to a consultancy’s hourly rate.
But an organisations health and safety needs are often variable, with periods where resource isn’t needed at all. With a permanent employee they may end up paying for downtime, where services are simply not required. There are also additional costs to consider such as recruitment, training, technology fees, and cover for sickness or annual leave.
A health and safety consultancy may be more expensive on an hourly basis, but it is also likely to be more flexible, only charging for time spent on that account which can work out cheaper overall. All costs are included in the rates, so there are no unexpected expenses, and contactors often gain access to complementary services that deliver extra value.
But even with consultancies there are pitfalls to avoid. Some charge inflated rates or take a one-size-fits-all approach to pricing. This means companies aren’t just paying over the odds, they’re paying for services they don’t use. There are also consultancies offering exceptionally cheap rates, but their service levels are correspondingly low. If companies do outsource health and safety management, they should look for a consultancy with a bespoke service and flexible costs, so they pay a fair price for the services they really need.
Reflecting on reliability
One of the key benefits of employing an internal health and safety resource is reliability. They are always available when needed, assuming they’re not on leave, and should have full visibility of the organisational priorities so they can schedule activities according. Flexibility and out of hours support can be a part of their job description ensuring a reliable and consistent health and safety provision.
With consultancies, reliability is more variable. Some are incredibly dependable and deliver exceptional service, guaranteeing there is always someone available to support when needed. But this isn’t a universal approach. Small one-person operations won’t necessarily have the resource to cover call-outs and last-minute requests. On the other hand, large corporate consultancies tend to spread resources relatively thin across large numbers of accounts, which can also restrict reliability. If outsourcing, companies should thoroughly check a consultancy’s service level agreement.
Prioritising the personal touch
Another good reason to employ an internal resource is the potential to receive a personal service. An employee should thoroughly understand the organisation, its ways of working and its company culture. Because they are viewed as part of the team there may be less resistance to their involvement from on-site teams. Of course, there is a downside to this. An internal employee can become too close to the project and be overly influenced by personal relationships, making it difficult to be impartial. There is also a risk of complacency setting in.
A consultancy is far more likely to remain professional and unbiased. Smaller consultancies may also take the time to build trusting partnerships with their clients and understand their organisational values, which helps to maintain frictionless relationships. This isn’t always the case with larger consultancies which sometimes lack the personal touch, applying a tick-box approach which results in on-site tensions. If using a consultancy, organisations are well advised to ensure it is a good cultural fit with their business.
A key downside of an internal resource can be lack of knowledge and experience, especially if they are recruited internally from a different role. Even if an organisation recruits externally for an experienced professional, any further expansion of their expertise will be limited to the organisations own portfolio of works. Of course, knowledge can be expanded through training, particularly in specialist areas such as working at height or fire safety. But keeping pace with a dynamic industry through training alone can be tough as the individual won’t know what they don’t know.
A consultancy usually has the upper hand with experience. Consultants are constantly expanding their knowledge and can bring learnings from other current companies and projects. As consultants work in teams, they continually learn from one another, and can draw on specialist expertise from across their organisation. Of course, knowledge is most valuable when it is shared and used for everyone’s benefit, so companies should look for a consultancy that works collaboratively with its clients and explains health and safety matters clearly, without jargon or condescension.
In terms of liability, using an internal or external resource doesn’t make a difference. The company retains the legal duty to manage health and safety throughout their organisation, even if they get help from an outside consultancy. However, using a consultancy will reduce risk through increased awareness, knowledge, experience, and it also demonstrates a commitment to health and safety that can reflect well on the company.
Ultimately the decision over whether to use internal or external resource should be made by analysing the individual companies’ unique needs and determining how best these can be met. At Havio we try to provide a middle ground, where organisations benefit from a flexible, bespoke service, exceptional reliability, professionalism with a personal touch and ever-expanding knowledge and expertise. Feel free to check out our case studies to see what our clients think of our approach.