The issue of contractors has long been a problem area for businesses in terms of health and safety. Often, businesses cannot practically exert the same amount of control over their contractors as they can over their employees nor would they sometimes wish to. Often contractors are engaged for their specialist knowledge and expertise which the business does not possess. In such circumstances, businesses are rightly reluctant to interfere. Nonetheless, businesses still have significant legal responsibilities towards their contractors under health and safety legislation.
Dealing with the law first, businesses owe a duty under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 to contractors employed by them under section 3 of the act, ie those third parties to whom the business owes a general duty of care in carrying out the business. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 also require businesses to organise their health and safety systems and their risk assessments to ensure that contractors, and any employee whom the contractor’s work may affect, are adequately protected.
Unfortunately, even today, the law remains unclear as to the exact extent and scope of a company’s duty towards its contractors. Do I, for example, owe less of a duty or responsibility to a specialist contractor than, say, one whose employees are an added resource to my business? Often, the adoption of industry best practice means that any potential liability can be reduced to a minimum if the straightforward and practical steps outlined below are taken.
Choosing a contractor
Of course, before contractors start work, they need to be chosen by you. You should consider how you normally arrive at your choice of contractor. Is it simply on the basis of cost and availability or, after carrying out a considered review and assessment, do you decide that this contractor is the most appropriate for your needs, that they could work safely and in accordance with your requirements?
A contractor’s attitude and commitment to health and safety must be one of the fundamental factors in choosing an appropriate contractor. Potentially, they can, and will, drive a ‘coach and four’ through your existing health and safety systems! In some circumstances it may be appropriate to engage contractors from an accredited or approved contractor scheme or take up references from reputable sources.
Businesses should ensure that before contractors commence work, the company and the contractor has adopted appropriate planning steps to identify the hazards and the risks that the contractor’s employees may be exposed to, just as they would do for their own employees in undertaking a risk assessment.
Also, businesses have to ensure that contractors are made aware of, and actually follow, any particular site rules. This often includes:
- signing in and out
- naming a site contact
- understanding the general health and safety basics
- ensuring that their work is being carried out safely.
Businesses should continually ask themselves: Am I satisfied that this contractor can and will work safely?
Finally, you should ensure that if your contractor is going to be engaged again, you review their previous work to ensure that they are working fully in accordance with your health and safety requirements. The law requires that you should do all that is reasonably practicable to protect the health and safety of your contractor’s employees and those that may come into contact with your business.
Conversely, the contractor owes a duty to your employees and must, in carrying out its risk assessments, ensure that it takes into account anyone who might or will be affected by its work. This is not a one-way process.
It is impossible to deal with every circumstance but the issues below are some areas where businesses should be alert to the impact of engaging contractors.
Dealing with contractors
Health and safety policies
Consider how contractors are included in your health and safety policies. What sort of issues are covered in your policies and how are these adapted to ensure that you include contractors?
How do contractors know about your health and safety policies? Are they trained, given written documentation, or are they expected to just pick things up as they go along?
How are your health and safety systems organised? Who is responsible? Are those responsible familiar with all the issues relating to contractors? How do you differentiate between your own staff and those of contractors? Do different rules apply? Should they? How do contractors communicate with you?
Do you have practical arrangements in place to ensure that all your contractors fully understand the way that your business operates and the way that they should operate safely in accordance with your own systems of work? How is this documented and reviewed?
Have you made your contractors aware that you have different or alternative ways of working which they must follow in order to be safe?
How do you monitor contractors? Who looks at the contractor’s risk assessments and method statements before they begin work? Are they good enough? What arrangements are in place for the review of your contractors?
If your reviews flag an issue which needs to be dealt with, how do you ensure that this is dealt with appropriately and in a timely fashion?
Businesses must ensure that if they have mobile workers (usually those working away from a fixed base) that any special or unusual aspects of the job they undertake while mobile are properly assessed and that measures are put in place to avoid or control the risks.
In essence, if a company identifies that it does have mobile workers, it should ensure that its risk assessments are properly carried out and any significant risks or hazards which may occur during the day-to-day work of a mobile worker are appropriately assessed and control measures are adopted. Control measures for mobile workers may include instruction, training, supervision or being supplied with personal protective equipment. As with normal, fixed-base employees, employers should ensure that they regularly review any risk assessments that are in place from time to time to ensure that they are still adequate.
There is no legal prohibition on mobile workers and, under normal circumstances, employing mobile workers should not pose any additional risks. However, where a risk assessment shows that it is not possible for work to be carried out safely by a lone mobile worker, then the employer should put in place arrangements providing help or back-up should it be necessary. Sometimes lone workers are more likely to face violent situations. Appropriate measures should be put in place.
Often, certain types of mobile working may require a higher division of supervision than others. Employers should ensure that where this is identified in the risk assessment, the appropriate supervision is then implemented and regularly reviewed.
Employers must also be aware of any specific law which applies to the sector in which they operate. Certain types of activities cannot legally be carried out by one person.
Finally, where employers do have lone mobile workers, employers should adopt appropriate safeguards to ensure that if a lone worker has an accident while away from the employer’s premises, measures are in place to ensure that a lone worker can communicate to secure technical expertise or emergency assistance as and when necessary. Mobile telephones immediately come to mind but they are not the only means – a risk assessment will normally determine which is best.