Health and Safety When Working with Contractors

 

Overseeing a building project isn’t easy. There are a series of factors you need to take into account. The most important is managing health and safety during the construction process itself. 

That means assessing risks, working closely with contractors and maintaining control over the project the whole time. In order to do that, it’s important to have a strong working relationship with your contractors. 

Today, we’ll run through everything you need to know about construction health and safety when working with a contractor. From the planning of the project, to reviewing the completed work, this blog will provide you with a step-by-step guide to ensure you’re managing your project safely and efficiently. 

 

Health and safety when planning a project 

The planning of your project’s health and safety standards is an important aspect of its overall management. It’s vital you take this into account before you identify what contractors you want to work with. That way it’ll be easier to run them through the exact conditions of your site before they get started.  

There are a number of steps you need to take during this stage of planning.  

  • Identifying and assessing risks and hazards. This is a two-fold stage of preparation. You need to both identify the risk which could be posed, as well as work out what that could mean when it comes to the safety of your contractor. 

When it comes to identifying potential threats, think about it logically. Look at every aspect of your project and try to work out everything that could go wrong. It’s best to approach this two ways:

  1. Risks in the environment – for example, exposure to chemicals, work being done at a large height or exposure to the elements
  2. Risk created by the job – like lifting heavy equipment, erecting temporary access platforms or breaking pre-existing equipment 

Make sure to write all these down, ideally in separate categories.

Assessing the risks is the nasty part of the job. You have to work out what the worst possibility could be for the potential problems you’ve identified. 

The quickest way to do that is by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What is the worst result of an accident?
  • Who is going to be hurt if something does go wrong?
  • How likely is it to happen?

Again make a note of this. It will all come in handy for the final stage of health and safety construction planning. 

  • Eliminating risks. It’s impossible to completely eliminate all risks (sometimes it won’t be possible at all), but there are steps you can take to make them much less of a factor. 

When it comes to your responsibility in this regard, it’s important you:

  • Adhere to the standards expected of you
  • Comply with all recognised industry standards
  • Reduce all risks as far as reasonably practical 

In order to manage whose responsibility it is for reducing risk, think about creating a clearly visible responsibilities chart. This would list the precaution needed to lower risk, then indicate whether it was the responsibility of yourself, the contractor or both of you. 

  • Creating a health and safety checklist. Before you hire a contractor, you’ll need to write down all the potential dangers, and address how you’re going to battle them.

Think about laying out a table similar to the one below:

Potential risk   Risk reduction Actual Risk Risk factor Risk Responsibility
Pipework contaminated  Clean pipework Infection Medium Client
Working platform  Ensure proper construction  Falling from height High Contractor

This will give both yourself and the contractor a clear understanding of what needs to be done and whose responsibility it is. 

 

Finding the right contractors

Once you’ve carried out a full health and safety assessment, it’s time to go out and find a contractor who adheres to the standards you require. 

In truth, it’s hard to know if the contractors you’re contacting are fully aware of the HSE construction legislations. But don’t worry, there are ways you can hound out those who do and don’t understand what’s required of them.

  • The questions you need to ask. There are four areas of questioning which you could explore when consulting with a contractor. They focus around their experience, training and competence, level of supervision and, naturally, their health and safety policies. 

Let’s look at the kind of questions you should be asking for each of these categories. 

Experience 

  • What experience do you have working in this industry before?
  • How familiar are you with the specific hazards of our industry?
  • What issues did you encounter when doing this type of job before?
  • Are there any references you can supply?

Training 

  • If you have subcontractors, how do you ensure they’re as competent as you?
  • Do you provide health and safety training for your employees?
  • How do you pass health and safety information on to staff and subcontractors?
  • Are you a member of a trade or professional body? 

Supervision

  • How do you plan to supervise this job?
  • Who is responsible for the supervision of the site?
  • What would your first action be if you spotted a problem on site?
  • Are you prepared to follow rules we set out?

Health and safety policies 

  • Does your company have an existing health and safety policy?
  • Has HSE ever taken action against you?
  • What kinds of safety checks do you carry out on equipment?
  • Do you plan on using any subcontractors?
  • What are your current health and safety procedures?

Remember, it’s important you feel like these questions have been answered to a satisfactory standard. Only you can decide what that standard is. 

These aren’t the only questions you could or should ask. There might be specific queries which only relate to your business. Be sure to sit down and think this through thoroughly beforehand. 

  • What evidence to look for. Even if you feel totally assured by a contractor, it’s still important to get physical evidence of: 
  • A safety method statement. This is a full report, produced by the contractor, regarding how they intend to deal with the potential risks which have been identified as their responsibility. 

It should include clear instruction on what they intend to do to prevent a potential risk, as well as their immediate action should the worst happen. 

  • Any qualifications they possess. There are a number of qualifications which can be earned to emphasise competency in the field of health and safety. 

The Client/Contractor National Safety Group (CCNSG) for example offers a number of training courses which give full accreditations at the end. 

  • Evidence of approval of former clients. The greatest evidence of a detailed understanding of health and safety regulations comes from examples of past work.

Whether it’s direct reviews from previous clients or detailed case studies, this is an encouraging sign that the contractor in question understands how to work safely. 

If you really don’t feel confident assessing this yourself, there’s always the option of working with contacts in your industry to find out if they have any contractors they’d personally recommend. 

 

Contractors on the site

Once you’ve decided on your contractors, it’s time to get them on the site. This isn’t as simple as them turning up on day one and starting the project. There are a few things you need to take into account first. 

  • Checking a contractor in and out. It sounds simple, but providing a clear method for entering and exiting a site is crucial. It’s important for a business to know who is coming in and going out of their premises.

Using a pre-existing reception area, or even creating a makeshift one, is a good way of controlling this. Have people sign in and out, noting they’re part of your contractor’s team. 

  • Reinforcing health and safety site rules. If there are any health and safety rules which are paramount on your site, it’s important anyone working for your contractor team is aware. 

That means stuff like PPE, the rules regarding smoking on the site, rendezvous points in case of an emergency, and any other safety precaution which your site employs. 

  • Naming a site contact. Contractors need to have a regular site contact through whom they can discuss any issues which might arise. Their discussions should include things like:
  • Checking what precautions are necessary for any risks the contractors have identified 
  • Ensuring all precautionary measures have been seen to 
  • Agreeing a contact schedule

Communication between client and contractor is key on any project, so getting this step right is very important. 

 

Managing the project 

While you’re putting the bulk of work in the hands of your contractors, it’s still important you oversee and manage the project as a whole. 

That means setting up regular points of contact, and making sure to consistently check how the job is going. 

  • Working out the level of contact needed. This is something which can be worked out fairly early on. Sit down with a contractor and work out how regularly you want to liaise with them before the project kicks off in earnest. 

This is totally up to you, but it’s probably best if your site contact sits down and discusses the project (and any updates) with the contractor team at least once a day. It’s important to stay on top of issues. 

  • Assessing how the job is going. During these meetings, the site contact needs to get a grip on how they feel the job is progressing. To do so, it would be worth asking valuable questions like:
  • Is the job going as planned?
  • Are conditions still safe? 
  • If not, what changes have there been?
  • Has there been any incidents?
  • Has there been any changes in personnel?

It’s crucial to stay on top of everything that’s happening. If there’s even the slightest change in circumstance, you’ll need to work out if this is going to have an impact on health and safety standards. 

  • Working out special arrangements. If there are any special requirements which need to be taken into account by the contractor, it’s important you’re made aware of them.

This gives you the chance to react accordingly, ensuring they’re able to carry out the job to the fullest potential. This is all part of the greater sphere of continued communication between both parties. 

 

Reviewing the finished project 

The job might be over, but that doesn’t mean you can instantly switch off. Use this as an opportunity to assess what went well, and what didn’t.

There are four key areas you should assess.

  • Planning. Did you spot every potential risk or hazard in your planning stage? Ironically, it’s really only after a job is finished that you’ll have a good idea of what you might have missed. 

Think about anything which wasn’t perfectly executed, and consider what steps you could take in the future to prevent that from happening again. 

  • The contractor. Was your partnership a success? Even if a job was carried out to a satisfactory level, it doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily want to work with them again. 

It could have been the case they were poor with communication, or operated outside of the required health and safety standards (but just got lucky that nothing went wrong).

Likewise, they could have been excellent, following all specifications and guidance on the site. Make a fair and balanced assessment.

  • The work. Arguably the most important thing of all is the quality of the finished work. If this is lacking, there’s no point using the same contractor again. In fact, you may even need to get someone else in to fix the poor work they’ve done. 
  • Contact and supervision. Do you feel there was the right level of direct contact throughout the project? If something did go wrong with the project – be it shoddy work or an accident or injury – it could have been because there wasn’t enough communication throughout. 

Every relationship with a contractor will be different. That’s just the nature of construction. But if you use this guide as a template for how to approach health and safety practices in the future, it should set you in good stead.