Best practices for contractor safety management: audits, collaboration and culture

Read about the practices organisations should adopt to drive excellence in contractor safety. 

Contracting always increases in a tough economy, and the current climate is no exception. Cautious about investing, many companies are turning to the contingent workforce to support a more project-based approach. 

Whilst outsourcing certain tasks reduces legal obligations and long-term commitment to an extent, companies still have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of contractors.

Current legislation, including the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and CDM Regulations, requires that organisations establish the competence of all contractors who carry out regular work for them.  

However, managing contractor safety goes beyond ensuring basic compliance to building a culture focused on continuous risk mitigation. Here, we outline best practices for companies that rely on contractors, focusing on three key areas: conducting rigorous safety audits and inspections of contractor capabilities, establishing joint safety committees for cross-organisational collaboration, and cultivating a shared safety-first culture across the contract workforce. 

Audits and inspections

robust contractor safety programme - one that prequalifies contractors before being hired and monitors and manages ongoing safety performance - is the foundation for implementing oversight, cooperation and cultural alignment to drive excellence in contractor safety.

It is important to have systems in place for monitoring contractor safety performance on an ongoing basis. This may include checklists, safety talks, walk-through inspections, and reviews of incident logs. It should also include mechanisms for keeping track of documentation and training that may require renewal or updating during the job, as well as for reporting issues and concerns. 

Analysis of KPIs that represent adherence to your organisation’s safety requirements is the starting point of any performance monitoring system. Schedule regular meetings with your contractors to discuss performance metrics. You should discuss any incidents that occur along with their root causes and corrective actions to encourage continuous improvement. On completion of projects, arrange a review session with the contractor to assess what went well and to identify any learnings and improvements.

Another approach is to engage a third party to carry out contractor audits. This will give you in-depth insight into whether your contractors are providing the service that you require and expect. Contractor audits will highlight any inconsistencies in performance, and auditors will suggest practical recommendations to improve risk reduction.

JetBlack Safety Staff In the Factory

Joint safety collaboration

In the US and Canada, one of the most common best practices is creating and operating a Joint Health and Safety Committee (JHSC). In Canada, it is mandated in most provinces for companies with 20 employees (including regular contractors) or more and/or projects that last more than three months. In Europe, this practice isn’t as widespread, although it is recognised that cross-team collaboration can create a more robust safety net of support for contractors.

A JHSC is a group of people who collectively champion the implementation of a company’s health & safety programme and act as a vehicle for communication between employers, project managers, employees and contractors. It can be an internal committee of representatives from management and the workforce or cross-organis
ational, providing a shared health & safety forum and resource on projects involving several partners or stakeholders. 

Whether an intra- or inter-company entity, this collaborative approach means that all perspectives are considered in safety-related matters. JHSCs guard against one-sided employer-controlled decisions and ensure employees and contractors are involved in discussions about addressing hazards in the workplace. The outcome is recommendations that the JHSC deems necessary to maintain a safe culture. 

Whilst improving the health & safety record of the company or project is the overriding aim, joint safety collaboration also brings other benefits: it boosts morale and commitment as contractors and employees feel valued and empowered, it helps employed and contracted staff to gel and work as one team; it builds connections between workers, contractors and management; and it strengthens the organisation’s safety culture. 

Cultivating a safety first culture 

Expanding the reach of your safety culture to engage contractors is hugely challenging - it is hard enough to foster a strong safety culture within the bounds of your organisation.

However, it is possible to positively influence the attitudes and behaviours of external contractors to create a cohesive safety culture. 

The key to extending your safety culture is clear communication and consistency. Outline your safety expectations and standards from the outset to ensure contractors fully understand them. One example is developing a code of conduct with input from the contractors themselves. This will set the tone for a shared commitment to safety right from the start. 

Open communication and sharing of information should also be promoted continuously. Encourage reporting near-misses, incidents and hazards with a system involving employees and contractors and sharing lessons learned. Schedule regular safety meetings where everyone can participate and share concerns and suggestions for improvement.

Hold joint safety training sessions for employees and contractors to foster a collaborative learning environment. Training sessions should cover safety protocols, hazard identification and reporting, and emergency procedures. The joint approach makes contractors feel part of the workforce and motivated to embrace safety.

Leverage tech to make it easier and more efficient for contractors to follow safety procedures. Use digital tools for safety checks, inspections, and real-time reporting of hazards and incidents, as well as mobile apps for sharing important safety updates. 

Last but not least, recognise and reward contractors who demonstrate exemplary commitment to safety. Establish systems that link with KPIs for acknowledging outstanding safety performance in a range of areas, from PPE compliance to training achievements.

A priority, not an afterthought

Integrating contractors into your organisation’s safety culture is not an ‘add on’ - it needs to be an integral part of your safety strategy and programme - and it won’t happen without decisive and proactive action. Organisations must prioritise safety at every touchpoint with contractors, making it a core value that unites employers, employees and contractors.