How to be an Intelligent Customer and manage contractors accordingly
In the hazardous process industries, it’s difficult to imagine that there are many involved in procurement of products or services that are not by now familiar with the phrase ‘Intelligent Customer’. It’s a phrase frequently used by the UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) in conveying a fundamental principle to duty holders: that whilst they can contract out services, they remain responsible for the consequences of failures and the actions of others working on their behalf. This means that duty holders must be clear about what they expect of third parties in a world where ‘contractorisation’ has become the norm.
The HSE defines Intelligent Customer as “The capability of the organisation to have a clear understanding and knowledge of the product or service being supplied”.
The Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) goes further, defining it as “The capability of an organisation to understand where and when work is needed; specify what needs to be done; understand and set suitable standards; supervise and control the work; and review, evaluate and accept the work carried out on its behalf”.
In practice, this means that those procuring products or services must retain oversight and co-ordination of safety critical activities at every stage, e.g. during specification, design, construction, commissioning, handover, operation, inspection, maintenance, modification and decommissioning of systems, plant and equipment.
The Intelligent Customer’s job is made easier where the legislation is prescriptive and the requirements for compliance are set out in published codes, standards and recognised good practice guidance. But it’s more difficult when the services needed are less well defined and the competency standards for contractors and consultants are ill-defined or non-existent – never more so than in the field of risk assessment!
In situations like this, you might well ask yourself five simple questions:
(1) Is your consultant competent?
In an industry where there are so many rules and regulations governing health and safety – and where the consulting industry itself is unregulated – it’s essential to employ those with appropriate knowledge, skills, experience and attitudes. This vital mix must be managed within the consulting organisation’s own Competence Management System (CMS) to promote continual development of knowledge and ability. The CMS should focus on organisational learning; increasing, disseminating and retaining knowledge at every level, to retain people-based knowledge and expertise, for the benefit of clients.
Your chosen consultancy should be able demonstrate commitment to training and development. When looking for evidence of this you might question the CMS processes and how they relate to the services offered and look for evidence of successful outcomes through case studies and reference sites.
(2) Does your consultant have direct industry knowledge?
This may seem obvious but codes, standards and good practice guidance vary across the process industries and so knowledge banks must extend beyond ‘standard’ safety requirements. The ability to demonstrate sub-sector knowledge and experience should therefore be considered a prerequisite.
(3) Does the consultancy have strength in breadth and depth?
Compliance with complex process safety legislation requires input from a range of disciplines, sometimes making it difficult for smaller organisations to put forward subject matter experts to cover every facet. Thought should therefore be given to the full range of technical aspects and the requirements for demonstration of competency in key areas.
(4) Can your consultant deliver quality work?
Robust and repeatable workflow process are necessary for maintaining standards. These should be documented and aligned to recognised good practice guidance. The CMS should also form part of this system, with critical processes operating within a certified Quality Management System, e.g. ISO 9001:2015.
(5) Can they meet the budget and deliver on time?
Before choosing to appoint, it might be prudent to consider the volume of work required versus the resources available to the consultant to deliver within the desired timeframe. Overcommitment on the part of the consultant might inadvertently lead to disappointing and costly delays for you.
The questions above are by no means exhaustive but they should help to ensure that your risk assessments, studies and reports are produced by a consultant or consultancy which has both the competencies and capability to deliver what’s needed.