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Common Deadly Sins in Contractor Safety Management

With over two decades of working as a legal and safety specialist in the management of Contractor Safety, I’ve seen it all when it comes to contractor safety management.

While workplace fatalities have decreased by 50 per cent since 2007, 186 people still died at work last year and over 120,000 people were off work for more than a week due to a workplace injury. That is over 2000 years of lost time and $180 million in lost productivity, and that doesn’t include the legal and managerial costs associated with an incident and possible prosecution under health and safety law. The people injured were both direct employees and contractors and sadly contractors are more likely to be injured than regular direct employees.

These kinds of statistics not only scare most employers, they often result in snap decisions to engage in costly and legally risky contractor safety management that does very little to improve their contractor safety.

Here are some common deadly sins I see when working with companies to improve contractor safety management.

In this article
Taking your contractor under your wing
Wasting time on administration and “safety” documentation
Failing to clarify the legal relationship

Taking your contractor under your wing

While you may think you are doing the right thing by taking your contractors under your wing and directing them with respect to their management of safety, as opposed to them managing their own safety. In reality, contractors are more likely to be injured by those that hire them than when doing their own work. Your contractor is the expert, they are familiar with their work and the risks and should be relied on to manage their own safety in consultation with you. If they aren’t doing that, then why are you working with them?

Interfering with or directing contractors in their method of work may also significantly increase your liability in the event of an incident involving your contractor, and result in you becoming unnecessarily involved in any investigation, regulatory prosecution, or civil suit for damages.

The solution? Consult with your contractors and let them know they are responsible for managing safety with respect to their own work. Deliver a focused induction that provides adequate information about where they are working, the risks posed to them and what you are doing to manage those risks. This allows your contractors to design their work methods in the context of your risk profile and ensures they know how to be safe on your sites.

Wasting time on administration and “safety” documentation

Clients may spend anything from an hour to several weeks reviewing and consulting with a contractor about the standard of their safety documentation before they can get to work.

The practice of asking contractors for their procedures, safe work method statements and confirming if they are adequate and being complied with is costly and of questionable value. Just google “safety procedures”, download and there’s your contractor’s shiny new safety management system.

The very tenuous relationship between safety documentation and what actually happens on the ground makes this process very costly and often wasteful. If the cost of reviewing and approving contractor safety documentation were to be calculated based on FTE the cost could be between $150 – $3000 per contractor with very little benefit.

The solution? Implement an efficient prequalification process that obtains acceptance of your contractors safety obligations and assurance of safety performance to which you can hold your contractor.

Failing to clarify the legal relationship

The failure to clarify the legal relationship with contractors and who is responsible for what aspects of managing safety, often leads to confusion, wasted time, and in the worst-case scenario, critical safety actions falling through the gap.

The cost of this disorganisation can run into thousands if not hundreds of thousands of dollars on a large project. It also wastes valuable time and can cause a lot of confusion. Getting the right legal advice is critical and not doing so can waste thousands of dollars that may lead you straight into danger.

The solution? Always seek professional legal and safety help to draft watertight safety contract clauses.