How to Start a Contractor Safety Program

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A construction manager smiling and holding a clipboard in front of a job site.Companies use contractors, suppliers and other vendors to help them achieve their business objectives, but often struggle to encourage contractor safety programs that identify risks and opportunities for improvement. This struggle occurs despite statistics that remind us that such programs are essential to have in place. In 2019, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reported that 20% of the 5,333 on-the-job fatalities –– or 1 in 5 workers –– were in construction. Furthermore, a 2019 survey that The Center for Construction Research and Training conducted concluded that the injury rate in construction was 29% percent higher than all industries combined.

Organizations that do not have strong contractor safety programs not only put their employees in danger of injury, but also run the risk of legal complications, financial losses and organizational disruptions. Developing safety guidelines and procedures in accordance with OSHA regulations can safeguard human life –– a leading priority for safety officers, project managers, supervisors and others in charge of contractors.

Working in the safety profession requires an attention to detail that is only garnered through hard work and education. Professionals who pursue an advanced education, such as a Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management, learn vital information to lead the future of workplace safety, including putting effective contractor safety programs in place.

The Importance of Contractor Safety

The vital nature of contractor safety boils down to keeping workers safe on the job. Creating and maintaining a work environment that constantly protects workers from being injured or worse should be the top priority of any work project, superseding project time and budget concerns. Contractors may be skilled individuals and valuable assets to a project, but they are humans first and foremost. It is crucial to treat them as such through various safety measures.

While creating a safe environment immediately translates into the prevention of death or serious injury, it can also prevent peripheral episodes that can have a negative impact on a business. For example, an on-the-job injury or fatality can open an organization up to litigation. The basis of such a suit could stem from numerous issues pertaining to a work environment, such as an unsafe work area or improperly maintained equipment. Lawsuits could also be based on several OSHA violations, such as insufficient fall protection or poor control of hazardous materials. Even if the organization is cleared of any wrongdoing, the time, energy and money needed to work through the process could be taxing.

If an organization is found at fault, the fallout from such a decision could have a substantial impact on the bottom line. An organization could be on the hook for a significant amount of money if a contracted worker’s lawsuit is successful. This could dramatically disrupt an organization’s ability to operate efficiently, potentially having a negative impact on other projects in the long term.

Additionally, a death or an injury due to a lack of contractor safety can cause project delays lasting an indeterminate amount of time. These delays could cause deadlines to be missed and budgets to be inflated. Both of these things could damage an organization’s reputation just as much as an injury due to poor work conditions.

Tips for Starting a Contractor Safety Program

Nonprofit safety groups and industry organizations recommend that all employers who plan to use contractors develop a strategy to implement them into their daily work. Otherwise, the results could be disastrous.
“Your contractors could be bringing personnel onto your site who don’t have the training and certifications you would normally require,” according to EHS Daily Advisor. “The contractor—or the contractor’s personnel—may have only a cursory understanding of your site, their jobs, and safe work procedures. They may not understand what their responsibilities are. And if something goes wrong as a result, the headache of putting it all right again could belong exclusively to you.”
Nonprofit safety organizations and industry groups offer several best practice recommendations for contractor safety management.

Tip 1: Prequalify Contractors

Before the bid process begins, potential bidders should understand up front that the work includes health and safety requirements. Safety managers should consider these issues when assessing the contractor’s fitness for the job:

  • The contractor’s environment, health and safety (EHS) metric, which includes information about incidents and near misses, inspections, audits, and corrective actions.
  • Information should also include the contractor’s OSHA DART (days away, restricted or transferred) rate, which tracks employee absences, work restrictions or job transfers due to work-related injuries and illnesses.
  • Technical qualifications and competencies, including the years of experience and the ability to perform the job duties effectively.
  • Quality of service, including the number of similar jobs completed and the outcome.
  • Financial ability to fulfill contractual obligations, which may include a review of the company’s liquidity and owned equipment and machinery.
  • Insurance coverage, including general liability, contractor’s liability, commercial auto and workers’ compensation.

Tip 2: Plan

Companies that clearly outline the scope of work and the basic EHS risk assessment give contractors an opportunity to determine the potential hazards on the job and find ways to eliminate them. “It can also be used to determine what additional requirements and specifications should be included in the bid package. For example, if a job will require fall protection, contractors submitting bids can be instructed to include their fall protection plan and documentation of worker training,” EHS Daily Advisor said.

Tip 3: Hold Orientation and Training Workshops

Although many companies require contractors to provide training, companies that offer instruction at the jobsite can identify the risks. Site-specific hazards, safety requirements and emergency procedures should be outlined before contractors begin work. While they are working, contractors should participate in on-site safety activities, meetings and briefings.

Tip 4: Monitor and Assess

Companies that frequently monitor work can better identify potential problems and hazards. Companies must clearly define the consequences for not correcting problems and remove contractors with high rates of noncompliance.

Tip 5: Evaluate Performance

A post-job performance review can provide essential details when evaluating the contractor for future work. These details can encompass many aspects of a contractor’s performance, such as work efficiency, quality of work and interaction with other workers on the jobsite. Doing so can provide a holistic view of a contractor’s performance that goes beyond raw skill set.

How to Implement Safety, Security and Emergency Management Programs

Safety managers who work with contractors should also implement other policies and processes that encourage workplace safety. In most cases, managers should require contractors to follow OSHA training materials. In other cases, managers also include company safety policies.
One of these policies is to craft an owner’s policy statement reaffirming the company’s dedication to safety. This statement, which does not necessarily need to detail the exact safety measures in place to demonstrate a company’s commitment, verifies in writing that the organization treats safety as a core value of success. The owner’s involvement provides a “top-down” approach to the commitment, giving it a greater sense of authority.
Another process to undertake involves putting together a document outlining the various roles and responsibilities of every person involved in a specific project. This document should be specific and clear in its language to minimize the risk of confusion and ambiguity. This level of clarity can potentially be a protective measure against litigation if an injury is the result of worker negligence.
Finally, it is important that a safety communication process be established. This proactive measure should be designed to make specific protocols to maximize the efficiency of communication in the event of an incident. This form of communication can also correlate to adhering to OSHA’s hazard communication standard regarding elements like marking physically hazardous areas and labeling dangerous substances.

Become an Expert in Contractor Safety

As safety positions become more technical and requirements for the work become more stringent, safety leaders are moving beyond undergraduate knowledge to earn master’s-level online emergency management degrees. The leading programs build on expertise to apply cutting-edge knowledge to the field.
Students enrolled in Eastern Kentucky University’s online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management can learn the skills needed to become a protection specialist to implement contractor safety programs. The online emergency management degree program builds on existing expertise to prepare graduates for immediate career opportunities.

EKU’s online emergency management degree is designed for people seeking to advance their careers in emergency services, including recent college graduates, military personnel, and nontraditional students. The program allows students to customize their experience through a multidisciplinary track or concentrations in Corporate Security Operations, Occupational Safety, or Emergency Management and Disaster Resilience. The concentrations are also available as stand-alone graduate certificates, independent of a master’s degree. EKU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Learn more about EKU today.


Recommended Readings:

Emergency Planning & Preparedness for Today’s Workplace

5 Questions to Ask About Your Emergency Action Plan

5 Safety Precautions for Common Construction Risks


Buildings, “Why Contractor Safety Is Important for an Owner”

Center for Construction Research and Training, “Nonfatal Injury Trends in the Construction Industry”

EHS Daily Advisor, “Create a Contractor Safety Management Program”

Houston Chronicle, “How to Write a Safety Policy Statement”

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Commonly Used Statistics

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Hazard Communication

Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA Training Materials and Resources

Safety+Health, 11 Tips for Implementing a Contractor Management System