Industries worldwide rely on contractors for various specialised types of works in their facilities or operational plants, in many cases these tasks are hazardous, with significant training, hazard mitigation and control required, specifically during peak periods of operations or in times of maintenance turnarounds.
The hazardous work, coupled with the potential lack of familiarity regarding the facilities existing hazards, often pose serious challenges for health and safety practitioners worldwide. In many cases the work has to also be completed within a short period of time and temptations may always be there for the contractor to bypass certain safety controls in order to complete activities quicker.
Where contractors are working within your premises, a contractor safety management procedure or standard is vital to support both safe facility operations, the company’s overall safety performance goals and general enhancement of the safety culture to all personnel working within the facility.
Contractor safety management has generally evolved in recent years, yet it still has a long way to go, specifically with aligning safety expectations, programs, cultures, and strategies between contractors and the client organizations that engage them.
Many of the top tier organization that generally boast a good safety performance actively work in creating cultures where contractor companies are fully immersed in the operations of the mother company. This is normally done by having the contractor involved in company communications, operational meetings, behavioural safety programs, afforded the same internal HSE training the employees are afforded and, in some instances, even receive the same incentives as the actual employees.
A number of key elements to a successful contractor safety management programs will be addressed in this article. These elements address areas such as the selection, mobilization, general operations and monitoring of such contracted services. While the most significant contractor safety challenges typically involve workers involved in high-risk occupations, such as construction work, manufacturing or process plant operations, the safety needs of contractors providing simpler and more routine tasks, such as janitorial or housekeeping services, must also be addressed in these programs.
A good amount of the work actually starts before the contractor arrives at your work site. Health and safety professional must have key input to the type of contractor that gets selected through any potential tendering process. Minimum acceptance levels of previous health and safety performance need to be set and in-depth knowledge of the contractor’s previous work history obtained.
This may require a review of previous incidents and accident statistics, existing health and safety procedure, HSE certifications, training of personnel, methods of hazard control and allowances made for health and safety supervision when the work is performed. Many contractor organizations will provide a ratio as to the number of safety representatives per number of working personnel. Depending on the criticality of the operation, this ratio must be close to what the client considers acceptable.
Analysing the contractors organizational chart is also very critical as this can give good insights into how highly health and safety is regarded within the company. A safety director or manager reporting to the CEO or the top person within the organisation is a good indication. Having multiple layers of reporting between the top safety focal point and the top person within the organization, not so good.
HSE involvement during this phase and initial tender process if key specifically if the organization is new or has not yet established a strong safety culture. The worry, in this case, would be procurement or contract departments selecting the cheapest bidder, a scenario that does not bode well for contractor safety management efforts. You would only need to look as far as the fatal accident of Xcel energy in 2007 in the United States where selecting the cheapest contractor had a catastrophic result.
Planning the Activities & Assessing the Risks
In the initial stages, prior to mobilising a contractor, the company must develop an HSE plan that assesses every aspect of the contractors works at the client’s premises. This sets the basic expectations for the contractor’s health and safety commitments on all aspects of its operation as well as the health and welfare of its employees while working at the client’s location, or in the case of certain projects, their after work health and welfare facilities.
Where the contractor might initially fall short on some of the aspects of the HSE plan, improvement suggestions can be made by the client with these actions tracked and followed up with the contractor on a periodical basis.
Finally, individual risk assessments in their various forms will be required for the different activities the contractor may be performing, these may include method statements, risk assessments or job safety assessments. The contractor must also be made aware of any potential permitting requirements within the organization.
Prior to mobilisation it is always important to start with a kick-off meeting between the contractor and the client, this is essential to ensure that contracted companies have understood the basic requirements needed to complete their work activities. It should be used as an opportunity for the contractor to become familiar with the location, facilities, personnel, and other relevant information.
When mobilising, it is also important to ensure the client refers back to the HSE plan to confirm all areas initially agreed are being adhered to.
Health, Safety and Environmental Training
The client should always create a comprehensive contractor HSE Training Matrix which determines what training every contractor discipline would require based on the activities that will take place at the work site.
Safety professional may want to involved training personnel in this to ensure a thorough training analysis of the needs has been made. The matrix should also determine what training will be offered by the client, what training is a pre-request prior to mobilising and where third-party certifications are expected
For example, it needs to make clear from the start that a scaffolder would need to come with third-party scaffolding inspector training, his company ensuring he is first aid trained and then for him to receive a work induction as well as working at heights training by the client.
As much as possible the HSE Training matrix would need to be shared with the contractor early on during the planning phase.
Contractor monthly HSE reports and meetings
The client is to provide the contractor with a pre-set monthly report format in order for them to highlight essential HSE information such as injuries, accidents, property or environmental damage. Manhours worked may also be necessary in order for the client organization to be able to compile comprehensive overall lost time reports.
Meetings with the contractors are also encouraged to determine some of their concerns. It is also an opportunity for them to highlight their achievements and discuss any lessons learnt as a result of incidents or accidents. The meetings are also a way to enhance an overall stronger safe work culture.
Evaluation and Lessons learnt
This phase should never be underestimated as it is a time when both the contractor and client can reflect on their work together. They should address their compliance with the HSE Plan and discuss how they have performed in accordance with any performance indicators that may have been initially set.
In general, lessons learnt, whether they are positive or negative are to be discussed to ensure the organization improves in the areas of concern. The phase is also important as it is a record that can be used for potentially evaluating the contractor if their services where to be used again. Such information is usually kept by the company contracts or procurement departments to refer to when required in the future.
In conclusion, most contractor programs tend to focus solely on managing risk. In other words, money and contract cost appear to be the primary driving factors when it comes to employing any contractor.
Another way to look at this, however, is that safety is just good business. Screening for high incident rates and avoiding contracts to high-risk contractors not only reduces liability and insurance claims but creates safer work sites and increases the potential profitability for all parties involved.