Is your workplace as safe as it could be? Is your organization in compliance with all federal, state, and local health and safety laws and regulations?
If your answer to either of these questions is “no” or “I’m not sure,” it’s time to bring in a safety consultant.
What Is a Safety Consultant?
A safety consultant is a professional whose job it is to improve people’s safety and health by minimizing risks in the workplace. To do this, safety consultants perform audits and inspections, offer guidance to employers, aid in developing and implementing health and safety programs, train employees, and provide other consulting services as needed.
The term “safety consultant” is generic. Other common titles include the following:
- environment, health, and safety consultant (often shortened to EHS consultant)
- environmental health and safety consultant (also shortened to EHS consultant)
- occupational health and safety consultant (OHS consultant or OH&S consultant)
- health and safety consultant (H&S consultant)
- EHS advisor
- EHS specialist
- risk management consultant
- risk consultant
- safety compliance consultant
Basically, any word or combination of words like “safety,” “health,” “risk,” and “compliance” followed by a word like “consultant,” “advisor,” or “specialist” typically refers to the same kind of professional. Services and functions may differ somewhat depending on the individual or company hired, but their general purpose is the same: maximize safety, minimize risk. For simplicity’s sake, we’re using the term “safety consultants” as a catch-all in this article.
Whatever titles they go by, safety consultants are experts in their field. Most possess one or more safety certifications, such as Certified Safety Professional (CSP), Certified Industrial Hygienist (CIH), Occupational Hygiene and Safety Technician (OHST), and QEP (Qualified Environmental Professional) credentials. Many hold PhDs or other doctoral degrees.
Unlike safety managers and directors, safety consultants don’t work in-house. Instead, they act as independent third parties, offering their services when organizations need them—similar to the way attorneys and insurance brokers operate. Safety consultants can work closely alongside an organization’s internal safety employees, or fulfill the role of safety director where no in-house team exists.
Safety consultants may work as freelance individuals or as members of a regulatory body, EHS company, or risk management firm. Some organizations hire them on an as-needed basis, for one-off inspections and training initiatives, for instance. Other organizations pay monthly or yearly fees to keep safety consultants on retainer, so they can tap into those consultants’ expertise for continual EHS program development, implementation, monitoring, and improvement.
What Does a Safety Consultant Do?
Safety consultants help organizations create better environments for their employees. They make sure people are working safely, efficiently, and in compliance with all relevant rules and regulations. They also assist organizations in identifying and controlling areas of risk—processes and technologies that expose the employer to legal and financial liability.
In other words, a safety consultant’s job is two-fold: keep employees safe and keep employers out of trouble.
Some consultants emphasize the safety aspect of their jobs, centering their work on the concerns of employees. Others focus on risk and couch their services in risk management and loss control at the employer level. In either case, the two goals are always aligned, and the results should be the same: better worker well-being and an improved organizational bottom line.
That’s because safety and business performance are inextricably linked. By helping you avoid accidents, a safety consultant will protect you from all the negative consequences of accidents:
- workers’ compensation claims
- employee turnover
- diminished productivity
- regulatory citations and penalties
- bad publicity
- damaged trust among your customers or clients
A safety consultant’s role is to address existing EHS issues as well as potential future concerns. The job touches on many different areas of employee health and safety.
For example, a consultant may help you design and implement machine guarding in a device that’s injured employees.
…Or they’ll make sure your safety data sheet library is complete.
…Or they’ll train employees on lockout/tagout procedures.
…Or they’ll work with you to plan a new warehouse layout that ensures forklift drivers have sufficient clearance on all sides.
A good safety consultant can handle all of the above—plus much, much more.
How do they do it? There are a few general parts of the safety consulting process:
EHS Audits and Inspections
A safety consultant typically starts by visiting one or more of an employer’s facilities and conducting an initial inspection or audit.
During this examination, the consultant identifies hazards and existing control measures for safety and environmental risks. They inspect the workplace carefully with an eye out for health and safety hazards, as well as areas where the employer may be violating laws and regulations. Specifically, the safety consultant wants to make sure the organization is meeting all minimum federal and state Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.
A good safety consultant goes a step further and thinks beyond the bare minimum of regulatory compliance. They look out for potential inefficiencies and weaknesses in business processes—things that may not pose immediate safety concerns but drain organizational resources and may grow into bigger problems over time.
Safety Program and Regulatory Program Development
Once the examination is complete, the safety consultant reviews the results of the inspection/audit with the organization’s management team. Based on the issues identified, the consultant and the employer discuss priorities and outline next steps.
This is usually when the consultant either guides the employer in creating a new safety program or updating an existing safety program. Based on their findings, the consultant may recommend that the organization form a safety committee (if one isn’t in place already), change accident investigation and reporting protocols, install new EHS software, and/or carry out other large-scale changes.
Consultants can also help develop the required written programs for compliance with federal and state safety regulations. Examples of these include:
- Emergency Response Program
- Fall Protection
- Hazard Communication Standard
- Heat Illness Prevention Program
- Injury and Illness Prevention Plan (IIPP or I2P2)
- Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
- Powered Industrial Trucks (Forklifts)
- Respiratory Protection
For more information about developing comprehensive safety and regulatory programs, read KPA’s article: What It Takes to Create a Successful EHS Program at Your Workplace.
Corrective and Preventive Actions
Next, the safety consultant and the employer work together to first fix any particular existing health and safety issues, and then to address potential risk areas before they lead to incidents. These measures are known as corrective and preventive actions.
Corrective and preventive actions take many forms. Depending on the issue, the organization may need to…
- tweak or redesign EHS protocols
- introduce new policies
- replace old machinery
- buy new personal protective equipment (PPE)
- remove trash and debris from the workplace
- change facility layout
- alter employees’ job functions
An organization that has EHS problems typically needs to do several of these things and/or take other corrective and preventive actions. In any case, all actions should address the root causes of issues, as determined by the safety consultant.
Keep in mind that this isn’t always step #3—it may happen concurrently with or even before the previous step depending on the specific organization’s needs, the situation, and the consultant’s working style.
Not every safety consultant can help with employee safety training, but the best consultants do—either on their own or with the support of a separate training solution.
Good training is essential for employee health and safety. For the organization to actually reduce and prevent incidents, people need to know how to perform their jobs correctly. Moreover, the lessons need to be deeply embedded in employee behavior—the information needs to “stick” when employees face real-world health and safety problems.
An hour-long PowerPoint presentation doesn’t cut it. Effective EHS training is interactive and accounts for workers with different learning styles, language fluencies, and experience levels. It also reinforces key information multiple times, in multiple formats (e.g. multiple-choice quiz, video, and interactive exercises).
Remember: learning needs to happen more than once. Employees should undergo training as soon as they’re hired, whenever elements of their jobs change, and annually or on another regular basis.
EHS Monitoring and Improvement
The work doesn’t end after issues have been identified and addressed, a safety program is in place, and employees have been fully trained. Good safety consultants continue to help organizations improve safety and minimize risk through continuous program monitoring and improvement.
The level and duration of involvement vary from organization to organization, consultant to consultant. Perhaps the consultant continues providing guidance and helping for several months, until the employer’s in-house safety department is comfortable managing everything. Or maybe the consultant remains an ongoing part of the team, performing periodic reviews, acting as a member of the safety committee, and providing EHS training and assistance when needed.
Where Can You Find a Safety Consultant?
Your organization has multiple options when it comes to engaging with a safety consultant and improving your EHS program.
OSHA’s Consulting Program
First, there’s the free option. OSHA provides safety and health consulting to small and some medium-sized businesses throughout the United States. These services are available at no cost and are totally separate from OSHA’s enforcement arm, meaning any issues that consultants find won’t result in penalties—as long as you take care of those issues in a certain period of time. You can learn more about OSHA’s consulting services here.
For some companies, OSHA’s consulting program can provide a decent framework for establishing and maintaining a safe working environment. However, the program falls short in addressing many employers’ needs. Here are a few downsides:
- It only provides the essentials. An OSHA consultant will tell you about obvious safety issues in your workplace, but not potential risk areas or opportunities to become more efficient. It’s about putting out fires, not creating a genuine safety culture.
- It’s directed at smaller businesses. The larger and more dispersed your workforce, and the more technologies and processes you have in place, the less value OSHA’s inspection program will provide to you and your team.
- It doesn’t include much more than one on-site visit. An OSHA consultant will meet with you, conduct a walkthrough of your workplace, and then give you a report of what they found. They won’t work with you to implement the necessary changes, take corrective and preventive actions, train your employees, or continually monitor and improve your safety program.
- There’s no virtual option. If you need a consultant who’s able to meet with your team and examine your facilities virtually, you’ll need to look elsewhere.
- It could lead to an inspection. An OSHA consultation is technically legally binding. If you don’t follow the consultant’s guidance, the situation could escalate into a full-blown regulatory action. According to OSHA, “[i]f you fail to eliminate or control identified serious hazards (or an imminent danger) according to the plan and within the limits agreed upon or an agreed-upon extension, the situation must be referred from consultation to an OSHA enforcement office for appropriate action.”
Safety Consulting from Industry Experts
For the reasons outlined above, most companies need to look beyond OSHA’s consulting services and hire experts who can serve them on their terms—not OSHA’s—throughout the entire safety program lifecycle.
There are numerous individuals and companies out there that provide private, independent EHS consulting services. Some are comparable to OSHA’s solution, while others go several steps further with software, training, and ongoing safety program optimization.
Not sure what solution is right for you? Fortunately, if you’re reading this article, you’ve already found the best.
KPA is the leading option for workplace health and safety consulting services. Our team of experts will help you not only ensure compliance but also develop and execute safety programs that reduce injury and illness rates, decrease workers’ compensation costs, increase productivity, and improve morale across your workforce.
Whether you’re just starting out in the process of developing a proactive safety program or you need assistance with regulatory required programs, our certified consultants are ready to assist you—on-site or virtually.