Seven Principles For Managing Contractors

Seven Principles For Managing Contractors

Published July 1, 2021

4 minute read

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 seven 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.

For instance, 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.

Therefore, it's important to mention that you can't just buy off accountability when dealing with contractors. If you're going with a cheaper option, it's imperative to weigh the pros and cons first. 


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.

This is an important step and you need to set create clear expectations. This includes things like setting timelines for completion, outlining roles and responsibilities, and establishing how changes will be handled.

You should also provide information about safety standards, such as what the contractor needs to do in case of an emergency, as well as any applicable laws or regulations that need to be followed. Having clear expectations from the start sets a strong foundation for successful management of contractors.


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. It is also important to make sure your contractors receive proper training before beginning work on a project.

This includes both general safety training and specific training related to the tasks they will be performing. Skipping this step could result in mistakes being made or accidents occurring due to lack of knowledge or understanding of proper procedures. Therefore, it is essential for all contractors to receive proper training prior to beginning work on a project in order to avoid potential issues down the line.


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.


7. Regularly monitor progress

Once you have hired a contractor, it’s important to regularly monitor their progress throughout the project. This includes making sure they are adhering to all safety guidelines, as well as checking in with them periodically to make sure they are meeting deadlines and staying on task.

Regular monitoring will help ensure that the project runs smoothly without any unexpected surprises or delays.

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




Managing contractors can be challenging but it doesn’t have to be difficult if you follow these basic principles. By clearly communicating your expectations upfront, regularly monitoring progress, and ensuring all necessary training has been completed, you can rest assured knowing that your projects are running smoothly and safely with minimal risk of accidents or delays.

Following these simple rules will go a long way towards keeping your business running efficiently while maintaining a safe workplace environment for everyone involved!


Author Laura Fitzgerald

Laura Fitzgerald is a Content Marketing Manager with EcoOnline. She has been writing about health and safety topics since 2017, with a focus on the areas of improving employee safety engagement and EHS legislation.

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