Using contractors? Do you understand your health and safety responsibilities?


Using contractors?

Do you understand your health and safety responsibilities?


Did you know that if your contractor hurts themselves doing work for you, you might be liable?

In today’s work environment, most businesses use contractors – either as part of the team that delivers their core work or to carry out work around their facilities such as electricians, cleaners and more.

Many businesses still assume that if they outsource work to contractors, the responsibility for health and safety lies with the contractor and not them. However, in most cases, that thinking is incorrect and leaves the business exposed to huge risks.

Contractor Health and Safety

For example, OSHA – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration Agency of the Department of Labor in the United States – released guidelines about what it calls ‘Multi-Employer’ work sites that state that responsibility for health and safety lies with both the main business as well as the contractor, but also point out that the main employer will likely carry a higher responsibility. In their guidelines for the construction industry OSHA goes even further and states:

In no case shall the prime contractor be relieved of overall responsibility for compliance with the requirements of this part for all work to be performed under the contract.

In New Zealand, the guidelines are even more specific and put even more responsibility onto the main employer. WorkSafe NZ states

As a principal to a contract, you are liable for the health and safety of contractors under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992. If you fail in your duty the Act provides for substantial penalties.

And while the actual degree of responsibility varies, other countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada also put at least some responsibility on the main business.


In short; you can outsource work but you cannot outsource health and safety.


In addition to legal responsibility, it’s also important to understand contractors can be a massive risk to their co-workers onsite if they are not informed and trained sufficiently in activities or machinery. According to a 2007 study in the American Journal of Public Health, “hiring subcontractors brings specialized knowledge but also young, inexperienced, inadequately trained workers onto industrial and hazardous waste sites, which leads to increased rates of accidents and injuries” – a statement that can be applied to any industry. In fact, statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the U.S. show that 17 percent of fatal work injuries in 2013 involved contractors.

There’s the reputation side too.

If word gets around that a workplace is unsafe for outside contractors it could hurt that business’s image and ability to secure contractors needed to deliver to customers.

It’s no surprise that the new OSHA guidelines released in 2016 dedicate a whole section to Multi-Employer work environments.

It’s obvious contractors need to be included in health and safety efforts just like employees, and likewise to be supported and incentivised to regard safety with huge importance.



There are steps businesses should take to fostering a health and safety culture that includes contractors and ensures a safe work environment for everyone.


1. Establish effective communication

Health and Safety communication

The OSHA Guidelines highlight two key steps. First of all, host employers and contractors need to establish effective communication. This means the host employer needs to implement “procedure to ensure the exchange of information about hazards present on site and the hazard control measures in place.”




2. Establish effective collaboration

The second step is the establishment of effective collaboration which means that all parties involved need to work together to coordinate “work planning, scheduling, and resolving program differences to identify and work out any concerns or conflicts that could impact safety or health.”


3. Take Health & Safety into account when selecting contractors

Contractor Agreements Health and Safety

Similarly, New Zealand’s Business Leaders’ Health & Safety Forum says businesses should lead the way by taking into account a contractor’s commitment to health and safety when awarding them contracts, not just price. Once they’re on board, the main employer should involve the contractors in the planning and coordinating of the work so that together they can identify risks and the best ways to manage them. Companies then need to allocate time and resources to ensure the contractors can be supported to work to agreed health and safety standards – worth it in the long run – and let them know the door is always open to discuss safety issues. It’s also a good idea to build their capability by involving them in day-to-day health and safety activities like inductions, training, and safety briefings.



Once they’re on the job, companies need to empower contractors – and employees – to speak up about health and safety.

As Richard Wagstaff, president of the New Zealand Council of Trade Unions, told

While managers have been encouraged to improve their act, we think a real deficit is workers themselves aren’t encouraged to stand up for health and safety.

An easy fix for getting contractors engaged in a health and safety culture is to get them using the right health and safety software.



Most businesses implement some form of health and safety software and system. For those business that regularly work with contractors it’s important to consider this when choosing the software.

Health and safety software

Huge benefits can be gained from having a health and safety software system that includes contractors and connects everyone – employees and contractors – on one platform.

Such a platform would go a long way to address both of OSHA’s suggestions to establish effective communication and collaboration. Furthermore, if would save those responsible for health and safety communication and collaboration significant time as they can engage everyone at the same time instead of having to manage employees and contractors separately.

Want to learn more about what makes health and safety software effective?  Download our Free White Paper below.



White Paper:

The Top 7 Characteristics of Effective Health and Safety Software

How to identify technology solutions that can really make a difference to the safety of your people.

This paper outlines the seven characteristics of health and safety software that will truly make a difference. The information provided will help managers to better evaluate the different digital solutions available and choose one that can really help them create safer workplaces – today and beyond.

White Paper: Effective Health and Safety Software