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0220 ehs Contractor Safety

5 Best Practices to Accelerate Contractor Safety

Feb. 10, 2020
Learn how to ensure your contractors share your commitment to safety.

Contractors fill one of every five jobs in the United States and are expected to make up nearly half our workforce within the next decade. They bring with them varying degrees of occupational health and safety knowledge, training and experience, making it difficult for organizations to manage workplace safety.

To mitigate the risks associated with disparate, and potentially inadequate safety training of contractors who work on their behalf, more than 75% of companies in a recent NAEM safety management benchmarking discussion plan to advance their contractor safety programs. It’s for good reason: Preliminary OSHA reports show that organizations across industries and trades continue to fall short when addressing critical safety hazards, including the use of personal protective equipment, operation of machinery and industrial trucks, and fall protection, among other hazards.

A strong contractor safety program—one that prequalifies contractors before they are hired and monitors and manages ongoing safety performance—can ensure that contractors are adequately equipped to mitigate hazards. This can help to prevent worker injuries, protect corporate reputation, support compliance with government regulations, and avoid hefty fines associated with violations.

“We’re in an industry with a lot of regulations,” said a NAEM participant committed to strengthening contractor safety management. “We’re responsible for our contractors and held accountable for their performance. We need to manage them because we have strong performance and safety numbers and we want to keep it that way.”

Business drivers for creating a more strategic contractor safety management program include the following:

  • Rising safety incident or injury rates.
  • Regulatory requirements.
  • Benchmarking best practices.
  • Environmental, social and governance reporting/stakeholder expectations.
  • Enterprise risk management.

Here are five best practices for mastering contractor safety management with dedicated, strategic programs that extend throughout your entire supply chain. Leveraging them can help you build a more comprehensive, effective program to better protect the people on your job sites and, in turn, your business.

1. Ensure that safety and expectations are communicated through induction training.

Safety training is one of the most impactful tools companies have for sharing their safety culture throughout their workforce, including their contracted workers. What better way to ensure your workforce’s safety readiness than to train them before they set foot on a job site?

Onboarding or induction training communicates safety expectations and trains workers to safely perform job duties before they come to work. Typically instructor-led, the detailed training efficiently and effectively prepares contractors to safely operate machinery and understand how to mitigate the unique safety hazards of their jobs.

It often includes the company’s safety and emergency procedures, work permits, and site requirements. Requiring contractors to complete induction training provides assurance that they are prepared with the most effective, relevant training for the jobs they are hired to do. Use of badging or other technology-based tools to enable easy verification of training completion before a contractor goes to work is key to ensuring compliance.

2. Build safety requirements into contracts and accounts payable processes. 

Contracts help to clearly establish your organization’s expectations regarding its contractors’ safety preparedness and performance. Legal contract language should require their compliance with federal, state and local regulatory requirements, along with company-specific health and safety requirements. This may include participation in the company’s safety prequalification program administered through a third-party provider and maintenance of an acceptable safety score in their contractor management system.

In addition, some organizations also tie meeting contractor safety requirements into their accounts payable processes to help motivate and enforce contractor compliance. For example, when contractors don’t maintain their compliance, as evidenced by an acceptable safety score in the contractor management system, payment is withheld until compliance is achieved.

3. Establish and track contractor safety KPIs. 

Key performance indicators (KPIs)—such as total number of safety-related incidents and lost time rates—are one of the newest tools for advancing contractor safety.

EHS leaders rely heavily on safety metrics to create awareness of safety adherence and motivate workers to improve their performance. Many companies leverage a third-party software provider to host a digital dashboard that features the company’s key safety-related KPIs for its contractors.

Clearly visible analysis of KPIs that represent safety adherence and progress can help decrease serious incident rates by holding department directors accountable for them. Regularly scheduled meetings to discuss performance metrics, including any incidents that occurred along with their root causes and corrective actions, can help teams strategize for continued improvement.

4. Leverage audits and incorporate safety performance into post-project evaluations. 

Periodic on-site inspections, jobsite walk-throughs and annual audits are effective ways to monitor contractor safety performance. These can be conducted by internal resources or some organizations leverage an outside vendor to perform these audits, supplementing their internal resources to give them more eyes in the field.

Organizations with advanced contractor safety programs go beyond contractor prequalification and monitoring by integrating safety performance into post-project evaluations and close-out conversations. For example, an EHS team included in the NAEM study conducts a post-project evaluation upon the completion of all contracted work. The company relies on the same general contractors for various projects, so they can regularly evaluate their performance and collaborate with them on subcontractor management to monitor and continually improve safety adherence.

The results of contractor safety audits and post-project evaluations can also be shared with supply chain, providing that part of the organization with additional metrics to monitor contractor performance, manage the relationship, and make decisions regarding inclusion in future bid invitations.

5. Leverage technology and third-party vendor support. 

Gathering, verifying and auditing contractors’ health and safety metrics and safety programs are not quick or easy tasks. According to EHS Today’s 2019 National Safety Survey, leveraging technology for assistance is one of the most prominent industry trends. Technology, such as contractor management software solutions, modernizes contractor safety management for more efficient, effective results.

NAEM survey respondents with advanced programs rely on third-party providers with technology solutions that are backed by safety expertise to bring added capacity. A provider with expertise in contractor safety management can help standardize the prequalification process across the organization and provide clear visibility into whether a contractor company meets its safety expectations when assessing potential hires. This type of solution also frees up internal resources by handling time-consuming collection and review of safety program information from contractors and, at the individual worker-level, can provide a clear picture of contract workers’ training and readiness to work, and to help flag workers in need of additional training.

All told, then, adopting proven best practices to build or enhance your contractor safety management program can help ensure your contractors share your commitment to safety, improving safety performance and strengthening your workforce.  

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