Contractors are a vital part of many businesses, providing much-needed manpower or niche expertise to deliver projects on time and on task. But few companies have a clear understanding of how to correctly hire, manage and safeguard these ad hoc specialists.

Whether you’re taking on electricians, plumbers, caterers or cleaners, get up to speed on regulations for ensuring safe working practices on your site, your responsibilities as an employer and how to protect yourself from costly contractor-related claims.

2015 – Facilities management company and contractor fined for contractor death

Back in 2015, before the new sentencing guidelines came into force, contractor Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Ltd and facilities management company Norland Managed Services Ltd were both fined after a Balfour Beatty contractor was fatally electrocuted when working on a Norland-managed site building in Middlesex.

Your responsibilities

It is your responsibility to employ a competent contractor and advise the contractor of any risks they may be exposed to in your workplace. You are also required to inform them of your health and safety arrangements, including safety rules and emergency procedures.

Competence

The degree of competence (knowledge and experience) required will depend on the work to be done. You’ll find more details in the competency checklist below.

Training and information

Contractors and sub-contractors must provide their employees with information or training on anything that may affect their health and safety. The contractor needs to exchange in

formation about the risks arising from their operations, including relevant safety rules and procedures for dealing with emergencies.

Cooperation and coordination

There must be cooperation and coordination between all parties to ensure the health and safety of on-site workers and anyone else likely to be affected. These should include regular safety meetings and briefings.

Consultation

You should consult with employees on matters affecting their health and safety. 

Management and supervision 

The greater the impact the contractor’s work could have upon your team or customers, the greater your responsibility to manage and supervise the contractor.

This level of management or supervision should be agreed before work commences. Periodic checks should also be undertaken to ensure work is being conducted as agreed. If you identify any problems where there is an imminent risk, work must be stopped.

Risk assessment 

The contractor must assess the risks for the contracted work and you should ask to see their risk assessments or safe working arrangements.

Insurance  

The contractor must have adequate public liability insurance.

To determine the competence of your contractors, you could check:

  • Relevant experience
  • Qualifications and skills
  • Membership of relevant trade or professional bodies

Depending on the complexity of the job, you could also ask for:

  • Health and safety policy
  • Safety method statement
  • Information on the health and safety training and supervision they provide to their sub-contractors
  • Whether they or their employees hold a ‘passport’ in health and safety training (this is a growing trend in some industries)
  • Health and safety performance record (including the number of accidents)
  • Selection procedure for their sub-contractors
References

You can then decide how many references you need to request as evidence of a responsible health and safety track record.

Control of contractors on site

A checklist for managers:

  • Do the contractors have public liability insurance?
  • Do you know when the contractor will be on site (including dates, times and duration)?
  • Do you know what equipment/chemicals they are bringing on site? Will these be left on site? What risk do these pose to employees and customers?
  • Do you know which areas they will be operating in? Will these areas need to be separated off? Is there a risk of tripping, slipping or contact with hazardous equipment, chemicals or materials?
  • Have you informed the contractor of your health and safety arrangements? These need to include emergency evacuation arrangements, any appropriate risk assessments, location of asbestos, signing in/out arrangements when arriving and leaving the site, smoking guidelines and the contact for reporting incidents, accidents or problems.
  • Have you seen the contractor’s risk assessments, safe systems of work, method statements or permit to work* where applicable?
  • How will you monitor the contractor’s activities? What ongoing checks will you do?
  • How do you know who is on site? Does the contractor know where to sign in/out?
  • How will you ensure contractors are not left with vulnerable people without supervision?
  • If a security pass or keycode is needed, is security still maintained?
  • Will the contractor’s work impact on water, gas or electricity supplies?
  • Does the contractor need any further information about the operations carried out on your site?

* A formal permit to work may be required for high risk works involving live electrical facilities, asbestos containing materials or work at height on the outside of the building.