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Understanding Categories of Contractor to Ensure Proper Management of Safety

Recent prosecutions have highlighted the difference between health and safety obligations owed to labour hire vs independent contractors.

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Management of contractor safety is usually considered through a lens of risk and it usually goes like this.

Management of contractor safety is usually considered through a lens of risk and it usually goes like this.

  1. high-risk work = high levels of involvement and control.
  2. low risk work = low levels of involvement and control. 

However, what we really need to consider is the degree of control we have over our contractors which goes like this

  1. Labour hire workers are integrated into your organization and under your total control
  2. Independent contractors are influenced by you and may directed in some matters but who have control over their own methods of work and risks arising from that work
  3. Appointed Principal Contractors where control and responsibility for control has been delegated  under legislation

In several recent prosecutions three employers were found guilty for failing to ensure a safe method of work was implemented for “independent contractors” but careful reading tells a a different story. 

Prosecution 1 – An “independent contractor” was engaged to undertake cleaning on a roof and fell through when they left a walkway and walked on the roof. The Principal Contractor argued that they were not responsible or liable for the injury as the “contractor” had control of the work and could be relied on to work safely. However, the workers were directed by the Principal Contractor and they were really labor hire.

Prosecution 2 – A Building contractor engaged another contractor to install a roof. The sub-contractor was expressly instructed to follow the work methods and safety arrangements of the head contractor, making them labour hire. 

Prosecution 3 – A contractor was engaged to install a sub roof at a bakery, and again was working at the direction of the Principal Contractor making them labour hire. 

In each case the Principal Contractor clearly did not understand the relationship with their contractor, their degree of control over the work and the safety obligations that flowed from that control.  

These cases make it clear that it is critical to understand just what type of contractor you are engaging from a control perspective. To fail to do so means you may not fully understand your safety obligations and responsibilities for managing safety. 

To ensure you and your contractor are clear on safety obligations prequalification processes should clearly establish what type of contractor you have engaged, what the obligations of the contractor and yourself are for managing safety and obtain agreement from the contractor that they understand and accept their role, what ever it is and finally then behave in a way that reflects that understanding.