Contract workers are expected to constitute nearly 50% of the workforce in the next decade, with one in every five jobs expected to be performed by them in the United States These contract workers will come from different backgrounds and skill levels, making it challenging for employers to assess each contractor before employing them.
From a health and safety perspective, it is critical to building in safety mechanisms to ensure there are no safety lapses when it comes to tasks performed by contractors. OSHA also points out that companies must take a proactive approach to risk management when it comes to contractor safety.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have elucidated safety rules to be implemented by contract worker agencies and host employers.
The key is to have a set of safety guidelines in place and offer safe working conditions – irrespective of whether they are permanent staff or contract workers.
Businesses need a robust contractor safety program to ensure both contractor safety and the quality of the job done.
Common Challenges Related to Contract Worker Safety
One of the common factors for contract worker injury or death in a workplace is the lack of sufficient experience and training. A study of compensation claims of more than 1.5 million workers shows workers who’re new to the job are at high-risk, according to Travelers 2022 Injury Impact Report.3
For instance, 48% of the compensation claims from workers in the construction industry were by workers who had been less than a year in the job, irrespective of age or experience. New employees are often paired with buddies who watch out for their safety when they are on the rolls of an enterprise. But contractors do not have that benefit, leaving them at risk and vulnerable.
Enterprises ensure the safety of their regular employees by providing them with training and awareness about risks in their areas of operations. However, visiting contractors, whether they are experts or freshers, may not be given the same attention.
The contractors may be proficient in the job–in fact, the work is outsourced to them because of their specialization in a specific area like welding. Despite this, OSHA makes it necessary for the employer to ensure that the worker, including a contract worker, is aware of the risks and has sufficient proficiency in managing the risks. The worker should be provided with the necessary PPE and tools, the workplace made safe, and permit-to-work provided to ensure safety. The risks and controls must be communicated clearly.
But here comes another factor that often renders this communication useless. Contractors may further subcontract the work to another agency. While the employer may have given the lead contractor the necessary safety information, this may not get passed on to the subcontractor. Typically, contract workers move from job to job, site to site, and may not have the time or inclination to undergo training or peruse any safety information, which can also put them at risk.
The Three Pillars of Workplace Safety
Ensuring workplace safety for both contract and permanent workers is essential. As OSHA says, “Whether temporary or permanent, all workers always have a right to a safe and healthy workplace.” To ensure this, enterprises must create safety management that rests on the following three pillars:
Prequalification of contractors before hiring them becomes a first and crucial step. This involves assessing the contractor’s qualifications, capabilities, certifications, and safety record before onboarding them. Onboarding many contractors for specific job types provide the enterprises with a fallback option in case the regular contractor is not available to take up the task.
The second aspect is communicating the risk and mitigative factors and ensuring the contractors are equipped with the necessary PPE and tools to handle the task. Here, it is also important to issue a permit-to-work and prepare the area to ensure worker safety.
Providing training to the contract workers is the third aspect and will depend on need. If the worker has the necessary certification and qualifications, a simple quiz or questionnaire may help assess their preparedness to undertake the job and reduce the safety risks. In case they do not seem to be qualified and in the absence of an alternative, they must be provided with training and information to keep them safe.
This makes monitoring and managing ongoing safety performance important. It is essential to prevent contract worker injuries to protect brand reputation, be compliant with regulatory requirements, and lower the cost of safety by avoiding penalties and litigation. Monitoring helps to ensure safety, take timely action in case of any events, and also enable continuous improvement.
Contractors also must perform job hazard analysis or plan before performing a task to identify potential risks. They must evaluate the associated controls or safety procedures for eliminating or mitigating the possibility of a hazard. The workers must also be provided with consistent and standardized supervision to make them safe and minimize the risks of an incident.
At ComplianceQuest, we recently published a blog titled ‘7 Benefits of a Robust Job Safety Analysis (JSA) Process to Improve Safety Performance’.
Read it here; it’s very relevant from a contractor safety perspective as well.
Safe systems are a set of processes the employer must standardize and implement before outsourcing the work to a contractor. These include:
Risk Assessment: Being well aware of the risks will help effectively implement controls needed to mitigate the risk. A robust risk assessment approach also helps with building a proactive safety culture.
Permit to Work: This helps in ensuring that only the authorized worker takes up hazardous tasks such as hot work or electrical work. The site must be prepared according to the hazard – for instance, in the case of hot work, all inflammable materials should be removed, the worker given the correct PPE, and fire extinguishers must be made available. It is also important to ensure conflicting tasks are not scheduled simultaneously.
CAPA: In case of an event, corrective action must be taken immediately to control the impact. A root cause analysis and identifying the true cause is the next step where preventive action can be taken to prevent future recurrence.
Incident Management: Accurate reporting of any incident is critical for continuous improvement. This provides the safety leaders with insights into why an incident occurred, whether it is recurring, whether it could have been prevented, and how to prevent its future recurrence.
Inspections and Audits: Internal and external audits and inspections should be performed periodically to ensure safety compliance and corrective actions where required.
The site where the work is to be done also needs to be made safe. As mentioned earlier, if the work has an inherent risk of fire, the place must be kept clean of any inflammable materials and fire extinguishers provided.
The workplace must generally be kept clean to avoid slips, trips, and falls, and to allow free movement of people and things. Signages should be put up clearly to indicate the use of hazardous materials and equipment. Lockout/Tag out should be followed during maintenance to prevent injuries.
Some of our customers are also going a step further, planning proactive initiatives like planning a Safety Day (every month), promoting safety culture and awareness through fun communication projects, etc.
To maintain a safe workplace near-misses and safety observations must be taken seriously. By proactive evaluating everything that is reported, companies can minimize both minor and major injuries.
Automating Contractor Safety Processes and Workflows using a modern EHS software system
Safety Management is an ongoing process, needing an inflow of data and constant monitoring for continual improvement. This is challenging without automation and integration of the safety management system with other enterprise systems such as HRMS, EQMS, and ERP solutions.
Onboarding of contractors can be automated using a comprehensive app that collects details and helps to create and maintain a potential list of contractors. This will save time when trying to look for an alternative contractor, as all the necessary information is available at your fingertips.
Reviews and approvals, documentation, training, risk assessments, and permit-to-work are some of the other functions that can also be digitized and automated, helping to improve compliance in a cost and time-effective manner.
Often, automation happens in siloes, with each function developing or buying a tool to solve its problems. Integrating these different tools to provide a unified view of data is essential for safety leaders to track and monitor safety metrics. A cloud-based solution that integrates functions end-to-end and enables different tools to talk to each other will help provide visibility and transparency to improve workplace safety.