Sense and Sensibility in Health and Safety Management – Part 9

Managing Contractors

Many employers find it hard to understand that when they engage contractors they automatically take on a health and safety responsibility for the contractors and for anyone else who might be affected by the contractor’s work. The common belief is that the contractors are responsible for whatever they do and whoever it affects. That this is not the case is illustrated in a recent Health and Safety Executive prosecution in Canterbury Crown Court.

International drinks company Allied Domecq Spirits and Wine Ltd and its contractor Ovenden Engineering were both prosecuted after a fatal accident to one of Ovenden Engineering’s employees. The Ovenden employee fell 6 metres to his death through a fragile roof-light as he worked to fix a roof-leak and clean gutters.   

The court heard there was no safety equipment in place for anyone working on the roof, which was itself fragile. Despite Ovenden employees working on the warehouse roof as often as every month there were no crawling boards, scaffolding boards, harnesses or nets to protect their workers from the risks. Ovenden was fined £26,667 and ordered to pay £4,000 in costs after pleading guilty to breaches of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

Allied Domecq was given a significantly higher fine of £266,677 and costs of £10,752 after admitting that it had responsibility for the site, should have ensured that its contractors planned their work, put proper control measures in place and carried it out safely.

In another case a Welsh Council was fined £20,000 plus costs of £11,000 when a contractor that it had nominated to carry out refurbishment to a domestic dwelling left a gas boiler and its flue leaking combustion products into the house. The Council was found guilty because it had nominated the company for the work without checking its competence or monitoring their work.

Employers must therefore, for their own protection, be sure of the competence of the businesses and individuals they contract to work for them. This applies to both businesses contracted to do work on the employers premises and those contracted to work for or on behalf of the business. Although contractors have their own health and safety responsibilities anyone engaging contractors must remember their health and safety responsibilities for the contractor and for anyone else who could be affected by the contractor’s work.

Use of contractors does not in itself lead to poor health and safety standards, but poor management of contractors can lead to injuries, ill-health, additional delays and costs. Contractors can be at risk because they are unfamiliar with your business and the hazards involved. They may have different motivations or attitudes towards health and safety; they will need to be managed and controlled. The amount of control and management should always be proportionate to the complexity of the task and the risks. Working closely with contractors will normally reduce the risks to your employees, the contractors and others.  

Peninsula recommends the use of a pre-qualification questionnaire for contractors and offer clients a suitable form and associated guidance. This is based around the British Standards Institute’s Publicly Available Specification PAS 91:2010; it can be used to assess a contractor’s compliance with legal requirements and their suitability for a particular task or tasks. Some statements made in by the contractor may need to be verified.

In every case contractor management should be proportionate to the hazards and risks of the work they are to carry out. Key steps in managing contractors are likely to include some or all of the following actions;

  • Being clear about the work to be done, and the competence required of the contractor.
  • Demonstrating to the contractor that you consider health and safety to be important and that short cuts are not acceptable.
  • Having a contingency plan in case things go wrong.
  • Having a plan to supervise and monitor the contractor’s work.
  • Having sight of and understanding the contractors’ health and safety plan.
  • Raising concerns about contractor performance at a senior level.
  • Holding a pre-start meeting to ensure communication and coordination; making the contractor aware of specific hazards; sharing method statements and safe systems of work.
  • Communicating risks to your employees, the contractor’s workforce and others likely to be affected.
  • Training. Tool box talks, coaching or instruction.
  • Isolation procedures.
  • Documented systems.
  • Routine supervision and questioning of actions and progress.
  • A dispute resolution procedure
  • Clear lines of communication for workers to report their concerns.

Provided that the work is properly planned and carried out by competent and responsible contractors it should be completed without incident or injury and importantly on time and within the estimated costs. 

Next time – The Role of Supervisors.

By Tony Trenear