Six Principles For Managing Contractors

Written by Laura Fitzgerald

The management of contractors is no easy task. Outsourcing work will always reduce the amount of control held over the production or services provided.

While contracts and agreements can be set in place prior to work commencing, clients cannot have complete assurance that their requirements are being met. This is why we put together six important principles to live by when managing contractors:

1. You cannot buy off your accountability


In discussing contractors, clients sometimes express their belief that by contracting work out they are contracting out responsibility for the risk.  A couple of examples show this not to be the case.

When an animal feed producer chose a builder with no experience of fragile roofs to carry out repairs for them because he was £20,000 cheaper than the next bid, the woman carrying out the work fell through a roof light and fractured two vertebrae.

The fines and costs paid by the client were three times that paid by the contractor, as the court considered the client’s failure to appoint competent contractors the more serious crime.

Whilst the contractor above was a sole trader, a carpet factory contracted out the inspection of their pressure vessels to one of the biggest names in the inspection service industry.  Surely they could be relied on? 

But the inspection company omitted to inspect one of the vessels three years in a row – before it exploded with such force that the vessel lid hit the roof six metres above and dented the girders.  Both client and contractor were prosecuted under the Pressure Systems Safety Regulations – the client's fine was only a fraction less than the contractor's fine.

2. Standard pre-qualification schemes might be useful, but are not sufficient


There are many pre-qualification schemes available, most now falling under the Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) initiative

However, some of these are geared towards particular industries (such as construction) or particular sectors (such as local authorities) so if you ask contractors to meet one, make sure it is relevant to your sector and the particular job at hand. 

It is important to also consider whether such prequalification is necessary for every job – what are the risks?  Over specifying might filter out a suitable contractor who didn’t want to spend time and money on a particular pre-qualification scheme.

Remember that accreditation to a scheme shows only that an organisation has been able to pull together the right paperwork to meet the requirements.  It does not prove that the contractor can do a particular job. 

Where appropriate, you might use a scheme as a filter, but you will need your own more rigorous process, tailored to the work being contracted out.

3. Know what you need


It will be impossible to assess the competence of a contractor to do a job if you are not clear on the job yourself.  So be clear about what you want the contractor to do. 

If all you know at the moment is “something needs to be done about the yard” then don’t go out to bid until you’ve invited a few possible contractors in to look at the yard, and to help you draw up a clear scope of work.

4. Know how risky the job is


Once you have your scope of work, you’ll be better placed to consider the risk involved in the job.  If “do something about the yard” turned into “employ a contract cleaner to come in and sweep up once a week on the day there are no vehicle movements” you probably have a low risk; if it turned into “resurface the yard and carry out the work in phases during normal operations” there will be many more hazards to manage.

Don’t forget too that you have an obligation to the contractor to tell them what risks they will face in your workplace.  Do you have asbestos? Are there electrical hazards they will have to deal with?  What people, equipment or vehicles might they have to work around?

It is their job to consider the hazards they bring, but yours to tell them what they might find.

5. Read the RAMS


Most contractors will provide risk assessments and method statements (RAMS). Insist on seeing these BEFORE the contractor arrives on site. 

You are not expected to be an expert in the methods being used, but if you are managing a contractor you are expected to understand the basics - for example, that working on a fragile roof requires precautions.

Check that the risks to your staff or members of the public have been considered and managed.  Look too for phrases that indicate the risk assessment is generic - like “where required” or “as appropriate.” If they are vague, ask for the documents to be tailored for the job.

EcoOnline provides a Contractor Management Software module to record contractor details and to collate and assess their RAMS – that way, you can make sure the documents are always in place before the job starts.

6. Be a good host


Leaving it to security to point a contractor in the general direction of their work is not good enough. 

Make sure someone competent welcomes the contractor to site, verifies their induction is complete (so, for example, they know about the fire alarm and assembly point), explains what welfare facilities they have access to, and checks they understand the job to be done.

If the contractor is not going to be fully supervised, make sure they know how to get in touch with their host with any queries – and “pop‑by” at suitable intervals (as determined by your earlier assessment of the risk) to see that they are sticking to your site rules and their own method statements.

Listen to our webinar on the '3 Pains of Contractor Management':








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