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Contractor Safety

11 January 2010

How safe is your contractor working on your site? Adam Masters examines two ways in which organisations can go about approving contractors to work for them and ensuring their own liability and responsibility is covered.

THE HEALTH AND SAFETY AT WORK ETC ACT 1974 places duties on employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment but who may be affected are not exposed to risks to their health and safety. It is very important that every organisation fulfils  its legal obligation to ensure that contractors visiting their premises operate in a safe way. Organisations can do this by an internal system of vetting and approving contractors, or by outsourcing the function.
It is important to understand that if, in a worse case scenario, a contractor’s employee is injured whilst working on your premises, the responsibility and liability remains with you. Having employed the contractor you must demonstrate that you have provided systems of work that are safe and without risk to health. A good way to demonstrate this is to understand your contractor’s health and safety competencies and systems of work.
The most important aspect in considering either an internal system of vetting and approving contractors or the outsourcing of this function, is to ensure the end result is the same. This essentially means any contractor working in your building should be able to demonstrate safe systems of work in their specialist areas.
Some organisations prefer the benefits of the outsourced approach, whilst others prefer the benefits of managing the process themselves.There is no right or wrong way, just twodifferent ways of achieving the end goal. Thechoice is yours.
Internal Vetting and Approval
PROS

● By dealing directly with a contractor you gain a better understanding of their H&S culture, policies, safe systems of work, and the competency of their employees. This is
primarily a tick box approach but it also enables you to tailor your request for information to the specific task you are employing them for and to get a ‘feel’ of the contractor company.
● Many contractor companies have already gone through lengthy processes to gain accreditation such as ISO 9001, UKAS, and many more. The scope of accreditation varies but many include details of their H&S procedures. Investing your time in understanding the scope of a contractor’s accreditation will ensure many of your initial questions are answered.
● You can continually work with your contractors to help them improve their H&S disciplines. Many contractors who have provided your organisation with a professional, safe, high quality, customer focussed service are often removed from ‘preferred supplier lists’ due to strict procurement procedures. They are often more than willing to work with you to demonstrate their H&S credentials, so engage with them to ensure you continue to receive a high quality service and improve H&S standards.
● Develop your contractor vetting and approval process based on your exact requirements.
CONS
● The process of vetting and approving contractors based on their H&S credentials
could be time consuming if you may not have the dedicated procurement resource to manage this process internally.
● You may not have the necessary experience or systems in place to ensure the contractor vetting and approval programme is easy and cost effective to administer.
● By outsourcing the vetting and approving of contractors you will limit the experience and potential development of your in-house procurement specialists.
● As there are many different contractor vetting and procurement third party
accreditation schemes, many contractors find they have to apply and gain approval
for many different schemes which is time consuming.
● Using an outsourced approach costs both you and the contractor money each
year - administration and renewal fees for you and approval and renewal fees for the
contractor.
● On average, from start to finish, it can take up to 12 weeks to complete the vetting and approval process. Contractors may have to wait before they can start working for you, and this may put significant cash flow pressures on them when they first seek approval.
Outsourced Vetting and Approval
CONS

● Outsourcing potentially provides savings in both direct cost and management time. As a result, you may prefer to entrust the process to a company with specific expertise and tried and tested approval processes.
● Most third party accreditation schemes will provide you with a dedicated account manager whose job it is to understand your exact requirements and tailor the contractor approval scheme to best fit your specific objectives where possible. The experience of the organisations running these schemes ensures that there is consistency in the vetting of each contractor who applies for accreditation.
● Contractors applying for accreditation benefit from the process, as they have to improve their internal H&S processes to meet the requirements
of the accreditation scheme. This may not always be the case with the internal approach, as you may not have the time to provide detailed guidance on how a potential contractor should improve their processes.
● Once a contractor has been accredited to a scheme not only can they work for the
organisation that requested them to gain the accreditation, they may also be approached by other organisations using the scheme, thereby potentially increasing their business opportunities. 
CONS
● One of your preferred contractors who has a good H&S record may choose not to join a third party accreditation scheme.
● Although there should be strict policies in place instructing supplier purchasers only to place work with contractors on their approved supplier list, in reality this does not always happen. Some may find loopholes in buying processes and place work with non-approved contractors.
● The biggest danger in the outsource approach is the false belief that you have
deferred responsibility for the H&S of visitors and contractors working on your premises. You are only outsourcing a procurement function, not your H&S responsibilities.
● The outsourced approach means you may be unable to tailor the request for information from the contractor, i.e. specific to the exact task you want to employ them for. The very nature of the outsourced approach means the request for information relating to the contractor service industry is broad.
● Due to the lengthy processes for accreditation, key service areas of a contractor company remaining unaccredited, thereby giving a false impression of their capabilities and less business income


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