Contractors and partner organisations – Not our responsibility surely?
Posted by Tracy Seward
The general approach taken by organisations these days is to outsource non-core activities and to bring in specialists to undertake specifically defined activities such as planned or reactive maintenance or a project. Organisations then often fall into the trap of thinking they’re no longer responsible for the outsourced function or the activities undertaken by others. That approach can spell danger!
Why is it dangerous? The contractors or partners are responsible for their own health and safety surely? Well, they are of course responsible for their own health and safety and need to have a management system in place to contend with risks. There are however also some shared responsibilities which need to be recognised and managed.
There are some basic principles which should help organisations or clients meet their obligations and these have been established over many years. The first principle is that clients owe a duty of care to others not to harm them as a result of what they do. This, of course, means contractors or partners need to understand what hazards are present when undertaking work for the client. A good example would be the presence of asbestos-containing materials or dangerous processes on-site or in a premise. The client and the contractor or partner must work together to ensure that they coordinate their activities and provide an environment where co-operation leads to good health and safety management.
The client must ensure that the contractor or partner is competent to undertake the activities they have been contracted to undertake. Competence is often difficult to define and assess but has been described by the Health and Safety Executive as “The ability to undertake responsibilities and perform activities to a recognised standard on a regular basis. It is a combination of skills, experience and knowledge.” In the context of an individual, it’s worth adding that they should be able to recognise when they are not competent to undertake a task or provide instruction and to call upon further assistance.
Lastly, as with any responsibility that is delegated or passed to someone else, there is always a need to check that what is agreed is being done. The client is always accountable for the activities undertaken within their operation or undertaking. Putting in place an oversight, audit, inspection or an ongoing review process is vital so that the client is able to satisfy themselves that the delegated responsibilities are being executed to the agreed standard and where they are not that they take appropriate action.
Taking too much control
While there is a need for the client to recognise that they are ultimately accountable for the actions of contractors and partners performing work on their behalf they must be careful not to try and exert too much control as this may lead to issues around competence and liability. It’s a fine balance that needs to be found but the ultimate objective, of course, is to protect workers and assets.
As always your feedback and thoughts on this topic or any of our past topics are very welcome. If you wish to discuss this or any other subject please do contact us or call 0870 4464201