Contractors often form part of a workplace’s employment picture. Hired to perform specialist tasks or to supplement the workforce on a flexible basis, they can be an essential part of a well-functioning workplace or site. But how do contractors affect the health and safety of a workplace and what should be done to check their health and safety performance?
To avoid non-compliance issues and poor health and safety standards, it is imperative to ensure that all work being carried out by contractors is being done thoroughly and responsibly. Competence should be addressed first, including asking contractors for demonstrations of previous health and safety performance, such as references or pre-qualification questionnaires. Contractors should be asked whether they can verify their health and safety training and any relevant licensing.
Specialist tasks undertaken by contractors can often involve hazardous activities or non-routine activities where there is greater potential for harm. What’s more, the specific hazards of a new workplace may not always be immediately obvious. It is important to ensure that contractors are properly briefed on and understand the risks associated with a site’s activities for them to be able to work safely.
While the use of contractors does not result in poor health and safety standards in itself, poor management of contractors can lead to injuries and ill health. These outcomes are highly undesirable and create a knock-on effect of delays and extra costs. Those responsible for managing contractors should consider:
- How will clear communication of health and safety policies and the main contractor or employer’s safety culture be facilitated? How will the induction process work?
- When will a risk assessment take place in partnership with the contractor?
- Do contractors understand the hazards, rules and safety procedures of the site? Do they know what to do in an emergency and how to raise the alarm?
- Do they have the correct PPE for the job and know how to maintain that PPE properly?
- What contingencies are in place if things go wrong?
- Is there enough time and resource allocated to brief contractors on health and safety and effectively track their performance?
- Have the lines of communication been established and understood?
- Are there procedures in place to report concerns?
- Has health and safety information, instruction and training been understood? Have language difficulties and differences been allowed for?
A strategy for monitoring performance
The Health and Safety Executive has outlined several measures to help monitor the health and safety performance of contractors, including:
- Be clear on how a contractor’s work will be managed before work begins
- Get their health and safety plans ahead of time – contractors have a responsibility to provide these
- Hold a pre-start meeting to ensure coordination and open communication, ensuring that assumptions are not made
- Include their activities in all inspections and checks, holding them to the same standards and safety procedures as the wider workforce
- Hold progress meetings and raise issues as they occur
Consequences of non-compliance
The consequences of non-compliance to your health and safety rules should be communicated at the outset to avoid any ambiguity. At the very least, it should involve reviewing safety procedures and understanding what went wrong. In more serious cases, a health and safety breach could involve the termination of the contractors’ contract. If there is a serious health and safety incident, work should be stopped immediately. The cause should be investigated and addressed, feeding back results to all involved before work recommences, in order to avoid repeat incidences.
Equipping all staff, permanent, temporary and contractors, with the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is key to creating and maintaining a safe workplace.
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