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Health and Safety when Using Contractors

What is a contractor/subcontractor?

A contractor is a company or individual with a formal contract to do a specific job for a client, supplying labour and materials and providing and overseeing staff if needed. A contractor may then engage other firms to assist with elements of the contract, these firms or individuals are regarded as sub-contractors.

What can be done to select competent contractors?

Companies need to ensure that the contractors they engage have the skills and knowledge to carry out the contract to the required standards without risks to health and safety. Examples for assessing whether a contractor is competent includes:

  • Evidence of experience in the same type of work
  • References from previous clients which are checkable
  • Accident ill health statistics
  • Qualifications, skills and ongoing training programs including health and safety training
  • How they will do the work i.e. Risk Assessments and Method Statements
  • Criteria for selecting sub-contractors
  • The selection of sub-contractors is more often left to the contractor, the same assessment criteria as above can be applied.

Who is affected/most at risk from contractors?

Almost all organisations will use contractors at some time. This can range from office cleaning, machinery repair or security services up to a major construction or refurbishing project. Contractors often work in unknown environments which can cause potential hazards for themselves or their client's employees.

Companies who engage contractors and sub-contractors have a responsibility under health and safety law to protect them from harm caused by company work activities. Similarly, contractors and sub-contractors must cooperate with the client and each other to ensure they don't do anything that puts themselves or others at risk.

What does the law say?

All employers have statutory and common-law obligations in relation to the health and safety of their employees and premises. There are elements of the following legislation that apply to the use of contractors:

  • Health and Safety at Work Act 1974
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 - of particular importance in any client/contractor relationship.
  • Clients and contractors also have legal responsibilities under health and safety regulations dealing with special hazards e.g. the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1999, the Control of Lead at Work Regulations 1998 and the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002, the new Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007

Good Practice

  • Provide the project specifications and requirements to contractors before they tender, this will help them decide if they can do the job.
  • Ensure competent contractors are engaged by using selection criteria.
  • Assess any risks to contractors and employees prior to and during the activity,
  • Inform contractors of day-to-day company work hazards, including special requirements e.g. permit to work systems, hot work. Emergency procedures, site rules and welfare facilities should be explained.
  • Work should be coordinated and controlled, with all parties aware of their responsibilities.
  • Communication with all parties on a regular basis during the contract period should be maintained. This ensures current information on activities is imparted.
  • Company employees should be made aware of hazards created by contract activity.
  • Health and Safety performance should be monitored. All injuries, near misses and cases of ill health should be investigated.
  • Maintain records of the activity.
  • When the contract ends, review the activity with all parties, discuss what went well and what areas could have been improved.
  • Decide if the contractors should go on an approved list for future contracts.

More information on the use of contractors

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