Director, MRTS Consulting Ltd

Author Bio ▼

Mike is a highly-respected chartered health, safety and environmental professional and has worked in multiple industries, cultures, legislative systems, organisations and industries (e.g. engineering, multi-utilities and FMCG production operations).

He has considerable experience in delivering a wide range of strategic consultancy services and training in particular; assurance projects, legal compliance reviews, management system gap analysis, environmental, health & safety management system development & implementation, training and competency strategy development.

Mike regularly delivers legislative and industry specific update seminars, and author’s international health and safety guides and documents for clients. He has extensive experience working for international organisations and clients in; Europe, Africa, North America and Asia.

July 8, 2016

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Opinion: Are standards really worth it?

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Mike Taylor, Turner and Townsend, asks if getting certified to a standard is a cost or an opportunity.

As I move around and talk to clients during my consultancy commissions, I hear more and more organisations stating that certifying to a standard is just like getting ‘a badge’? Well for most organisations this revolves not just around costs, but also the lack of improvements they are seeing in their business.

Let me state at the outset that I am a strong believer in having robust management process in place to ensure that we can meet our obligations, targets, strategies and drive for continual improvement. The gains that have been made in performance over the past decade or so have been a quantum leap – particularly for health, safety and environmental (HS&E) management.

However, many organisations are forced into certifying to a standard by customers and/or suppliers, to demonstrate a perceived level of effectiveness in the supply chain, or are in the position of having to tender for work on a regular basis. In this case having their HS&E management processes certificated allows them to circumvent many tender pre-qualification activities. The question is, how many of these certification schemes drive improvement, and actually increase the competency and effectiveness of the organisation – or are they just a rubber stamp? Any certification which doesn’t deliver improvement has to be questioned as just a way of generating money – and therefore cost.

One factor to remember is that certification can be as effective as a MOT certificate for a vehicle – it was ok when it was assessed, but over the intervening time has maybe deteriorated and become ineffective – or at worst perilous! Ah, I hear you say, but in larger schemes, that is what the internal audit is for. I agree, but how many of you have been involved in an internal audit process which is at best in-effectual, and at worst useless? Equally, how many external auditors actually dig into the internal audit process and verify its effectiveness? And yes, I have seen and been involved with management systems where the only maintenance that gets done is once per year, just before the certification visit – again, think about a vehicle MOT.

One recent focus area for many organisations, is the use a framework approach for effective management, whereby the framework specifies ‘what’ needs to be done (and provides a series of auditable requirements to demonstrate this) rather than ‘how’. This leaves the organisation free to tailor their management processes – describing the ‘how’ – to whatever process they wish – sometimes this will be a recognised standard, sometimes not. Where this has real benefits is for organisations who have operation around the globe and need to comply with different requirements in different countries; e.g. Europe and North America. In this case the system may not be ‘certifiable’, but so what if it drives tangible improvement.

So, is certification an opportunity or a cost – well it can be both. Any system that drives improvement and effectiveness has to be a good thing – if it doesn’t, then it just becomes a cost weighing business down. Let’s get back to driving continual improvement rather than getting ‘a badge’.

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Mike.taylorMikeTaylorMike TaylorPhil PinningtonAntoni Bucior Recent comment authors
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Richard Preston
Richard Preston

Your comment about being like an MOT is incorrect as organisations must put in place processes that ensure that they meet their legal obligations and monitor and review those systems. Internal and external assessments have to take place as well which ensures compliance. In particular internal assessments of a system must take place at a frequency that ensures that the processes are operating correctly.

Mike Taylor
Mike Taylor

Hi Richard, great observations, and I would love to agree that this is the case all of the time, and that the systems and processes put in place by organisations to assure compliance and adherence work as you say above. Your use of the word’ must’ is the crucial factor. Yes they must be in place to support compliance and adherence, but how effective are they? My comment about the MOT refers to plenty of processes I have seen where organisation simply want to ‘satisfy the audit / auditor’ and clearly they are not embedded and effective. How often do… Read more »

s.britton
s.britton

Standards can help promote H&S, but it should be made aware that some organisations will only sign into this as a way to be able to tender and gain new business this may be the primary mode to signing up and a secondary thought in really trying to promote H&S! like in every walk of life, you have some that go the extra mile and some who do just the minimum to stay legally compliant, so would it be better to award and make those organisations that go the extra mile be better publically known than just a logo being… Read more »

MikeTaylor
MikeTaylor

Great idea on rewarding those that go the extra mile. Mike T.

Bob Wallace
Bob Wallace

As an ex-auditor for a commercial organisation and now an expatriate EHS&T Manager for a mining company in Africa, who are certified to OHSAS 18001; I have sympathy for the views expressed above. Although Richard’s comment is correct, the integrity of the auditor is paramount, as evidence can be created and be flaky, but still accepted. I’ve seen organisations that are certified to 14001 and 18001and I wonder how, when their systems are ineffective, there is no management commitment and conditions are extremely hazardous and plant / equipment poorly maintained. My own certification process has provided some interesting situations, where… Read more »

Mike Taylor
Mike Taylor

Hi Bob. Thanks for a set of very interesting set of comments/thoughts, and you cover a lot of interesting points. Integrity of the company being certified, the company doing the certification and all involved (OH&S personnel, auditors etc.) is crucial – as are their competencies; organisational and individual. Overall performance and competence has to be the key here? Cheers, Mike T.

Antoni Bucior
Antoni Bucior

From past experience working as a H&S Professional within many organisations, I must ask do we also have a problem with organisations of many types both manufacturing, commercial and in service provision utilising their Certification in applications to potential Clients, in business profiles and in advertising when in reality the accreditation or Certification only applies to a small element or a particular part of their business? I am also sure we are all aware of the spurious use of marks of Certification by unscrupulous manufacturers, importers and suppliers which without robust research to ensure credibility tends to destroy the concept… Read more »

Mike.taylor
Mike.taylor

Some very valid comments re European standards, I guess this is still to be decided, but I would say it is likely that the UK will still ‘buy in’ to these standards. ISO’s are less likely to be affected by Brexit? Mike T.

Phil Pinnington
Phil Pinnington

Mike, I think you’ve put a light on something that we all know happens. Business, in the main, will be driven to sign up to standards mainly due to commercial reality. That said there are some who take what I would regard as the sensible route. Get a system in place then have it assessed against a standard. I remember the introduction of TQM (Total Quality Management) back in the early 90’s. Lots of consultants made significant profits from selling this to industry and many industries embraced it. Sadly from my own experience what was lacking was the infrastructure and… Read more »

Mike Taylor
Mike Taylor

Hi Phil. I agree with your comments, when introducing TQM in the early days good consultants encouraged businesses to improve their systems to meet the standards requirements, rather than designing a system to meet the standards. If the certification to a standard truly drives improvement I am all for it. Cheers, Mike T.