Contractors Research/studies Construction

IOSH study identifies safety management challenges of using contractors

Photo: Rattankun Thongbun/iStockphoto

Cranfield, England — Understanding how safety can be managed effectively and enhanced via business relationships is key when outsourcing work among various industries and job sectors, concludes a recent study funded and published by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health.

For the study, researchers at Cranfield University developed a conceptual framework that differentiated contractor relationships, a literary review and seven case studies of three global companies. The case studies included interviews with employees in both organizations involved in each outsourcing relationship. The researchers analyzed safety risks and the management of safety between the client firm and the main subcontractor.

Challenges associated with the management of safety in outsourced relationships, according to IOSH, include:

  • Operating across national borders where the legal and regulatory frameworks for safety found locally differ from those that govern the policies and procedures developed by the headquarters as well as prescribe wider company practices.
  • Outsourcing to another company where expectations of monitoring safety performance (e.g., for near misses and safety-related incidents) differ.
  • Tensions at the board level that may adversely affect otherwise amicable and effective relationships locally. Conversely, agreeable relationships at the board level cannot mitigate antagonistic relationships locally.
  • Hard-fought negotiations over the contract that may adversely affect resource availability and subsequent safety performance.
  • Transferring staff from the old to the new provider to mitigate a safety dip at the beginning of an outsourcing relationship. This limits innovation and improvements in safety performance, the researchers say.

IOSH provides a five-step plan for resolving these challenges and others with managerial practices for business relationships. For each step, tactics are outlined to ensure improved safety performance. The steps involve:

  1. Planning
  2. Choosing a contractor
  3. Contractors working onsite
  4. Keeping a check
  5. Reviewing the work

During the first two steps, IOSH recommends employing selection and recruitment of contractors. The first three steps, in order, should involve deploying risk assessments and methods statements, permits to work, and an induction. Engaging in verbal and written communication is necessary in steps two through five, while ensuring safety walkabouts (e.g., monitoring, inspecting and auditing) should occur in steps three through five. Learning should take place – via reports and reviews – during step five.


Using contractors shouldn’t allow employers to relinquish their safety responsibilities, IOSH Research Manager Mary Ogungbeje said in a press release.

“History has shown us that health and safety disasters happen when contractor arrangements are not managed properly,” Ogungbeje added. “So, while each context may be different, this study usefully reveals some common set or practices in outsourcing relationships that can help employers minimize the safety risks.”

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