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The Campbell Institute: Contractor management: A simple plan

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For most industrial companies, the journey to safety excellence involves contractors and subcontractors. Meeting production, quality and environmental goals only provides success if injuries are prevented along the way. The development of a contractor standard in our industry is not a guarantee of an incident-free environment. How you partner with your contractors is a vital step on this journey.

One of the best ways to achieve a successful partnership is to connect with the contractor. Set the expectations with them from the start and make certain any contractors awarded bids have reviewed, in detail, the scope of work with special emphasis on the safety aspects. When the contractor management team reviews this information, it should ensure that everyone employed at the site, including subcontractors, has been shared this information.

One way I have found this is accomplished is to ask the contractor to develop and submit a site-specific safety plan. Let’s face it, without a plan we are destined to fail when it comes to safety. This plan needs to include an overall vision as well as safety strategies specific in nature to your site. A “generic” safety plan will not suffice. Identify if the contractor’s work will involve high-risk or critical hazards, such as the control of hazardous energy, working from high elevations or fires. Make sure the steps to control these identified hazards are in the submitted plan. It also is important to review the safety performance and the safety programs of the contractor based on the type of work required. You can choose to do this internally or use a third-party provider.

A viable method that can create value in contractor management is having a robust safety orientation with the contractor. While a more detailed meeting is required with the contractor leadership team, the contractor employees must have a solid working foundation. Depending on the length of the job, you also should set a time to meet with the contractors on a regular basis. These partnership meetings will provide opportunities to share safety communications with all parties, including understanding and alignment with your safety vision. A strategy that has proved useful to me has been to ask my contractors to begin the meeting with a safety topic of their choice. This step instantly gets the contractors involved in the meeting. At these meetings, the attendees will hear best safety practices, as well as real-life experiences from each person in the room. But it shouldn’t stop there. If you will be the project coordinator and/or safety leader, then visit the work area often to check on the progress and show your commitment to safety. Attend a toolbox safety meeting as well as take the time to have an impromptu conversation with a worker about the critical hazards associated with their work.

Connecting with the contractor through performance evaluations while the work is ongoing also can be an important step in this journey. Sometimes, we wait until the work is completed and then provide critical feedback detailing how expectations were not met. The end of the project or post-incident should not be the first time that a contractor hears about your expectations. The ongoing evaluations of the contractor and the post work are important and should always be performed. Performing these evaluations with the contractor will help identify opportunities for improvement and perhaps save the life of a worker if a hazard or risk is identified and mitigated in the process.

Most safety professionals have a busy day every day. You might look at the above information and say, “How do I have time to do this?” The only answer is to build it into your schedule. One example is to perform an ongoing assessment with the contractor on the way to your next meeting. These evaluations could be electronically completed with the contractor on your smartphone or tablet in order to save time from entering it later into your database.

The journey to safety excellence may include contractor work. How will you involve contractors in your journey?

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This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Scott Roberts is a manager of safety and health at Georgia-Pacific, one of the world's leading makers of tissue, pulp, paper, packaging, building products and related chemicals. Georgia-Pacific is a member of the Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council.

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