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New CSB ‘Safety Digest’: The importance of contractor selection, oversight

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Photo: Chemical Safety Board

Washington — Noting that it “has conducted several investigations where insufficient safety requirements for contractor selection and oversight were found to be causal to the incident,” the Chemical Safety Board has published a new Safety Digest highlighting the issue.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, fatal injuries among contracted workers climbed to 856 in 2016 from 542 in 2011. In the newly released digest, CSB cites recommendations from various industry associations for performing contractor safety prequalification and selection, including ANSI/ASSP Z10, “Occupational Health and Safety Management Systems.”

The agency also points to Construction Users Roundtable suggestions for evaluating staff qualifications, incident history, existing contractor safety programs and owners’ previous experience, among other criteria, when prequalifying contractors.

The digest summarizes separate CSB incident investigations from 2007 and 2011 in which the agency concluded that inadequate contractor selection and oversight contributed to a combined 10 fatalities and four injuries. In the 2007 incident, five contract workers at the Xcel Energy hydroelectric plant in Georgetown, CO, were killed in an underground chemical fire. CSB found that Xcel’s prequalification process centered on financial capacity and did not disqualify candidates with poor safety records.

In the other incident, an explosion and fire in Honolulu killed five workers from a federal subcontractor hired to dispose of confiscated fireworks. CSB found that the contractor lacked previous fireworks disposal experience and apparently was selected for submitting the lowest-cost and most time-efficient bid.

CSB notes that Xcel adopted the agency’s recommendations after revising its contractor safety program. Adjustments included:

  • Revising contractor safety policies to ensure the contractor selection process includes criteria and procedures for prequalifying or disqualifying contractors based on specific safety performance measures.
  • Requiring a comprehensive review and evaluation of contractor safety policies and procedures and safety performance of contractors working in confined spaces.

In addition, CSB recommendations from the 2011 incident led the Department of the Treasury to create formal policies mandating that contracts and subcontracts pertaining to the storage, handling and disposal of explosive hazardous materials include “rigorous safety-related contractor selection and oversight provisions,” the digest states.

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