Works undertaken by a contractor are usually subject to civil law, but certain aspects of criminal law also apply to the operation of the contract. The safety of contractors is a joint responsibility of the policyholder and the contractor, along with the employees of each organisation. It’s necessary to ensure that the firm selects the right contractors that have adequate resources and the competence to manage the safety of any project.

Contractors may be appointed to provide labour only or materials and labour depending on the task at hand, and it’s vital that the policyholder has the correct contractual document in place and assesses all the risk.

Procedure for appointing contractors

The procedure for appointing contractors must be based on the risks associated with the activity. In order to classify the activity of the appointed contractor a supervising officer should be made responsible for the contract throughout. The supervising officer should conduct a basic assessment of the activity, and classify the contract as high, medium, or low-risk.

The firm must ensure that any contractors invited to tender for the activity are aware of the nature of the work, any hazards or risks that have been identified, and any measures that may be necessary to ensure residual risks are controlled.

And, those contractors being considered must be able to demonstrate their competence, knowledge of the risks or hazards, and the resources available to enable them to ensure controls remain effective. It’s important for potential future claims defensibility to evidence that the policyholder has documented the process, even if a formal tender process is not used. Even a basic checklist of required competence is a good starting point.

Service Level Agreements (SLA’s) should include safety targets such as “no breaches of safety procedures” or “100% compliance with the agreed risk assessment and training procedure”.

Contractors must be provided with copies of the risk assessments completed by the policyholder, and be given access to the relevant sections of the safety policy making them aware of any formal safety systems that are in place, e.g. fire evacuation procedures, permit to work procedures.

In addition the policyholder should expect the contractor to have their own risk assessment, policy, procedures and risk mitigation plans in place. Essentially a contractor should be asked for copies before he comes on site, with a spot check made to ensure they are adhering to their own as well as the policyholder’s procedures.

Contractors should be vetted prior to appointment. For low-risk activities this can involve a simple questionnaire and the provision of documents including a safety policy, risk assessments and method statements specific to the activity. For higher risk activities a more detailed selection procedure is usually the best approach.

Risk assessment

On appointment of the successful contractors, the firm should ensure they immediately conduct a risk assessment. All activities should be considered and the assessment must comply with the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 Approved Code of Practice. The assessment must be kept under review for the duration of the contract.

In addition to the risk assessment, for high-risk activity, contractors should provide a method statement and details of the safe system of work to be adopted throughout the duration of the contract.

Evidence suggests that if policyholders take the appointment of all contractors more seriously, the number and size of losses will reduce. And, it doesn’t need to be a complex, or indeed an expensive process.

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