The business (client) and contractor relationship is one of the most important aspects to any business model. Whilst this type of business relationship is very efficient, it also raises a number of potential pitfalls which if not recognised and controlled can lead to problems.
Both parties (the business and the contractor) have a duty of care under the health and safety act. Similarly, if the contractor uses subcontractors to carry out some or all of the work, all parties will have some health and safety responsibilities.
Potential issues when using contractors/subcontractors can include:
- Businesses may not be adequately resourced to effectively manage contractor activities.
- Contractors may use subcontractors which may not be apparent to the client; these subcontractors may not be under the effective supervision of the contractor.
- It is often difficult for clients to accurately assess the extent of contractor control over their subcontractors.
- It is often difficult for clients to accurately assess contractor relationships with their suppliers, especially when the supplier provides safety critical components which may require specialist training and/or instruction.
- Contractors may not have the same level of safety commitment or safety culture as the client.
- Contractors may change experienced personnel without notifying the client.
- Regular oversight of contractor operations can be problematic.
- Low bid contracts may be used which could impact overall safety performance.
- Issues with contractors (such as lack of resources, poor safety performance etc.) may not be identified before a contract is signed.
It is critical that businesses understand how to manage these types of arrangements. Every client should have a defined procedure within their safety management system that fullfiles the minimum requirements for contracted services.
To ensure contractors’ or subcontractors’ health and safety each party must:
- identify the requirements of the job and assess the risks involved
- decide what information and training is required
- select an appropriate contractor and ascertain their health and safety policies and procedures
- as the contractor, find out about subcontractors’ competence
- review the way work is carried out and the risk assessment
To ensure that there is cooperation and coordination between you/your staff and the contractors/subcontractors, you should:
- provide all parties with information, instruction and training on anything that may affect health and safety
- make the contractors/subcontractors aware of your health and safety procedures and policies
- provide management and supervision to ensure the safety of contractors/subcontractors
Penalties for health and safety failures
There are recent cases where clients, contractors and subcontractors have all been fined for failing in their health and safety duties. Failure to ensure the following, will result in a costly penalty:
- ensure a contractor’s/subcontractor’s competence
- supervise a contractor/subcontractor
- take steps to prevent contact with live equipment
- provide information about the existence of asbestos
- ensure safe operation of vehicles
- ensure safe loading to or unloading from delivery vehicles
- assess risks to health from regular exposure to high vibration levels
- exercise a duty of care towards a contractor/subcontractor
- provide a formal site induction, risk assessment or method statement
With all the risks involved, are there any advantages to using contractors?
Whilst there are a number of potential risks in using contractors/subcontractors, there are also many significant advantages. Advantages include:
- Specialist skill sets can be brought into an organisation without any long-term commitments.
- Contractors can be effectively integrated into a client’s safety management processes.
- Effective for one-off jobs, jobs requiring specialist expertise, fast turnaround or when you need more flexibility with a specific job.
- Additionally contracting work out enables your permanent staff to concentrate on the core business.
- Contractors can start a project at short notice, even when large numbers of workers are required.
- You can specify the type and duration of contract you need for the contracted job.
- You have no PAYE or National Insurance contributions administration for contractors.
- Also contracting allows you to obtain temporary cover for a permanent staff job.
An organisations safety management system must be geared to manage any potential risks. It is vital that clients understand that contractor activities nearly always increase the risk profile of an organisation. Especially for those activities that are outside the normal scope of an businesses day to day operations, such as safety critical or non-standard works. Regardless of contractor experience and safety performance, everyone who works for you needs to know how to work safely and without risks to health. You must provide clear instructions, information and adequate training.
Read Our Guide To Health and Safety Induction Systems. We explain everything you need to know and what you need to avoid in order to make your company’s induction program a success. In our helpful guide.