Carrying out all processes and operations in-house is not a reality for many companies. Under the older corporate model, it was common to keep enough trained and experienced staff on hand so that any task could be delegated to someone well-versed in the company's safety programs and standards. Employers could trust that anyone working in their facilities knew what they could and couldn't do – and the consequences for not living up to the standards.
For many companies, this is no longer the case. Businesses big and small rely on contractors to assist their in-house teams, even in dangerous tasks such as construction and electrical work.
Contractors aren't going away. But relying on outside help can expose you to additional risks. Unlike your employees, they're not familiar with the hazards in your workplace or the procedures for dealing with them. And although the fault doesn't always fall on their shoulders, it is the company hiring the contractor that is responsible for their safety.
So, what can you do to keep those risks at a minimum?
Six Steps to Minimizing Contractor Risks
1. Vet Contractors Before Hiring
Start by making a shortlist of contractors you're thinking of hiring and vet them thoroughly.
The vetting process should include (among other things):
- Completing a background check
- Checking in with previous clients or employers
- Evaluate credentials
Give a lot of weight to word of mouth from previous companies. Some contractors will look great on paper but have a poor client satisfaction record. Likewise, a contractor with little experience might do an excellent job. The only way to really find out (besides hiring them yourself) is to ask around.
Vetting contractors might seem like too much work when you're only hiring someone for a short time-frame. After all, why go through all this trouble when you only need someone to come in for one day?
The reason is simple: half a day of unsafe conduct or poor quality work can cost your company a lot. You can spend far more time and money on an incident than you would have spent qualifying the contractor, especially if you're using an efficient software solution to do it (learn more in The Case for Prequalifying Contractors and Suppliers).
2. Substance Testing
Once you've decided on a contractor and vetted them, you should also ask them to undergo a drug and alcohol test.
A large number of workplace accidents can be attributed to employee or contractor error, and drug and alcohol use increases the likelihood of these incidents occurring. With almost one quarter of Americans admitting to drinking during the workday and 70% of illegal drug users being employed, it's not worth taking a chance. You won't reduce your risk of incident to zero by testing contractors, but you will make sure that they come to work clear-headed.
3. Draft Safety Policies with Contractors in Mind
Safety policies are usually drafted for permanent and full-time employees. That might not make it an ideal document for short-term contractors.
When drafting your safety policy, be sure to include a section dealing with contractors and how to handle them coming onto the worksite. Consider making a shorter document or fact sheet specifically to be distributed to contractors, highlighting the important safety processes and procedures they will need to be mindful of when working for you.
4. Training Sessions and Workshops
Proper training is one of the best ways to ensure worker safety. Unfortunately, contractors coming in haven't sat in on the same training sessions as your full-time employees. While they might have undergone some kind of safety training in the past, they aren't likely to be familiar with the ins and outs of the hazards in your particular industry or workplace.
Involving contractors in safety training doesn't always occur to employers, but it is feasible. If you're working with a contractor over an extended period of time, you could have them participate in the training sessions the way any new employee would. Online training makes this much simpler.
If you're having a number of contractors coming in for short-term work, you could also put together a safety workshop for them. These would not be as elaborate as full-scale training sessions, but they could be streamlined to cover the most essential subjects.
5. Draw Up a Contract
An airtight agreement drafted between the company the contractors who work for it will protect everyone involved.
The contract should spell out which party will be responsible in the event of accidents and injuries. It should also incorporate penalties if contractors are found to have made errors or failed to meet their responsibilities and obligations. Negative incentives, such as fines or discounted payments, can be an effective way of improving contractor performance and ensuring their safe conduct in your workplace.
6. Evaluate Insurance Policies
Insurance won't prevent accidents or stop anyone from getting hurt. But it will make sure the financial consequences of those incidents don't get out of hand.
Review your own company's policies to make sure you have the right amount of protection you need in case a contractor commits an error, causes harm, or is injured while working on your behalf. Verify the contractor's insurance as well, and make sure it's adequate. Make sure the policies have enough coverage so that even the worst scenarios won't drain your company's bank account (learn The Truth About Certificates of Insurance).
Staying Safe with Outside Help
Contractors are becoming a reality for most businesses. Small, ambitious companies use them to achieve large-scale, high-quality results. Large corporations use them to deal with changing regulations that require specialist credentials even to complete more and more tasks. But bringing outside help doesn't mean you can just hire and forget. You need you to recognize the risks involved in hiring contractors and take appropriate steps to minimize them.