Outsourcing has been a strong trend in business for several decades. In 2002, an EU-OSHA report already concluded that “many companies now only carry out core functions in-house while ancillary functions have been outsourced.” The resulting chains of suppliers and subcontractors have become only more widespread since.
It hardly comes as a surprise that contractors and subcontractors suffer from higher average accident rates than in-plant staff. After all, outsourcing represents a significant change to work arrangements. This makes compliance to occupational health and safety (OHS) standards a considerable challenge.
Contractors can be more vulnerable to cognitive biases.
However, there is another important element at play — cognitive biases. Overconfidence effect, ostrich effect, availability heuristic, and social proof are only few of the many cognitive biases that influence our decision making as well as safety standards. We tend to overestimate some risks while underestimating others. And how we evaluate these risks usually has only little to do with how dangerous they really are.
For this reason, one can only battle these hazards by establishing strong occupational health and safety policies that leave little to chance. And indeed, over the past couple of decades, safety specialists have done an amazing job engineering safety mechanisms that limit the influence of cognitive biases on decision making.
“It’s often enormously difficult to eliminate risks connected to performing uncommon tasks in unfamiliar environments.”
It’s when it comes to making your contractors adhering to these standards that things get a bit more difficult. Sure, proper training and good OHS management systems can eliminate most risks associated with performing common tasks in familiar work environment. However, it’s often enormously difficult to eliminate risks connected to performing uncommon tasks in unfamiliar environments — the two inadvertent qualities of contractors’ work.
You might expect that most contractors know of the elevated risks that come with their work and behave accordingly. Unfortunately, practice shows that this is frequently not the case. Sometimes they don’t know. In some cases they don’t care. And then there are some who simply don’t have enough resources to invest into safety.
4 steps to ensure your contractors’ safety.
Still, in spite of the difficulties tied to contracted work, you’re expected to ensure they upheld health and safety standards at all times. After all, you both have duties under health and safety law. How do you do that?
- Select a suitable contractor. It’s not effective trying to educate someone who already doesn’t care about health and safety. Ensure your contractors have sufficient skills and training to get the job done safely from the get-go.
- Assess the risks of the work. This will depend on the nature of the job as well as the work environment. You probably already have the risk assessment for your own work activities. The contractor must assess risks of the contracted work. Finally, you also need to consider risks arising from each other’s work that could affect you mutually.
- Instruct and train your employees. Provide your contractor with enough information about risks related to your activities. Don’t forget to inform them about related safeguards and controls as well.
- Set up a contractor safety management system. In the end, you’ll want to standardise this entire process throughout your company.
Your role as the client is absolutely crucial. It’s up to you to demand strict observation of OHS standards. After all, you bear the burden of ensuring safety of all of your employees under the law.