The Noggin Blog

Why Contractor Relationships Are Foundational to Building a Safety Culture

Posted by The Brain on Jan 12, 2021 1:16:09 PM

It’s the new year, and you’ve made the commitment to build (or enhance) your safety culture. Only problem is your contractors and suppliers haven’t made the same commitment to prioritise their safety culture. Why does it matter and what can you do about it? 

MKT-509 - Safety Newsletter Graphic - Jan 2021-01

Impact on host company safety culture rarely considered in contractor engagements

 Your positive safety culture won’t just rub off on your contractors and suppliers without intervention. In fact, the inverse is likelier – the equivocal attitudes and habits underlying their health and safety practices and compliance programs are likely to negatively impact your safety culture.

But didn’t we already screen our contractors for work health and safety? Turns out, probably not. According to research from the Campbell Institute, work health and safety is often overlooked in the contractor prequalification process.

Why? Other criteria tend to dominate. A review of the literature shows that preferred criteria when hiring contractors tend to be management/technical capability, past experience and performance reputation, and proposed work methods.

Even in at-risk industries like construction, the criterion “site organisation, rules and policies” rarely outranks other key benchmarks like “ability to complete on time.”

Poor contractor safety management can sink your safety culture

Not that those other criteria don’t matter. But the failure to prioritise safety and health requirements at the pre-qualification stage has serious consequences for your safety culture down the line. For one, financial pressures might lead your contractors to engage in unsafe behaviour, such as working with minor injuries. Without proper vetting, contractors or subcontractors might be poorly trained or underqualified.  

Indeed, work health and safety (more broadly) tends to be poorly managed in contractor relationships, generally. There are structural reasons for this. Contractors might be performing non-routine work offsite, out of the direct supervision of your safety personnel. More likely, though: the internal teams responsible for vetting contractors failed to prioritise safety and health requirements in the first place – often despite formal guidelines stipulating focus on health and safety performance.

Use prequalification as a time to communicate the values of your safety culture  

What to do, then? Well, contractor relationship management is a multi-stage process. It’s easy to get wrong even with the best intentions.

That being said, one way to get it right is to use the prequalification stage to solidify your contractor relationship and encourage those parties to modify unsafe behaviours based on a longer-term view of the relationship. Specifically, you should use any means at your disposal to convey the values of your safety culture to contract workers.

Scrutinising contractor practices and systems during pre-qualification is another best practice that’s been shown to lead to continuous improvement throughout the entire contractor engagement. Owners at host companies should also perform more thorough vetting based on safety performance indicators, then obtain continual updates on lagging and leading indicators to inform performance and identify areas for improvement – all of which should be scrupulously logged in safety management software with contractor and competency management capabilities.

Finally, the new year is prompting many PCBUs (persons conducting a business or undertaking) to beef up their safety culture. However, those steps will come to nought without equal attention paid to contractor relationship management.

To learn how to better manage contractor safety risk and get more out of third-party engagements, download our free guide, The Work Health and Safety Guide to Contractor Relationship Management:


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Topics: Safety Management, Safety Newsletter

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