by Pat Furr, Safety Officer & VPP Coordinator
Introduction: According to the Chemical Safety Board “Contractor Safety Digest,” the agency has conducted several fatal investigations where insufficient safety requirements for contractor selection and oversight were found to be causal to the incidents.
The incident that caught our attention in particular was one involving confined spaces that occurred in Georgetown, CO, in 2007, in which five contract workers were killed. The company later adopted the CSB’s recommendations to include:
• Prequalifying or disqualifying contractors based on specific safety performance measures; and,
• Requiring a comprehensive review and evaluation of contractor safety policies and safety performance of contractors working in confined spaces.
The CSB also emphasized that a strong contractor selection process and contractor oversight policy helps to ensure quality work and that worker safety is maintained. Because of this, various industry organizations have developed recommended practices and safety criteria for selecting and prequalifying contractors. For example, the Construction Users Roundtable (CURT) lists staff qualifications, accident history, a contractor’s safety program, and an owner’s previous experience as potential criteria for safety prequalification of a contractor.
Roco Comments: We couldn’t agree more. Safety performance must always be at the forefront. With more and more companies coming to rely on contractors to deliver both goods and services, this critical factor cannot be underestimated. Every situation differs, but the trend is undeniable, contractors are taking a bigger and bigger bite of the pie.
Many times, there are sound reasons for contracting out some of the work at a facility. It may be a reduction in costs such as employee benefits and workman’s compensation, a unique service or product that the host company just cannot deliver in-house, or it may be that the service or product is only needed for a short period of time. No matter what your reasons for considering a contractor, there are many factors to consider in addition to the lowest price bid.
That old adage “You get what you pay for,” holds a lot of truth in so many instances, and especially so with contractors. Now I am not saying that you will never get high quality at a low price, but it is rare. When you put a job out for bid, it is important to list the specifications for the work or product that you need the bidders to meet, but equally as important is to list other specifications besides the job or product scope, and one of these specifications is safety.
As bids come in, don’t settle for the lowest bid until you have compared the bids to ensure all the specifications you have laid out are met. This is called “down select.” Cull out all the bidders that fail to meet your critical specifications, and one of the most critical is proven safety. If a bidding contractor refuses to submit their safety information as requested, then my recommendation is to cull them out of the running. Additionally, if a contractor has a safety record that falls short of your stated specifications, they should also be culled out unless they are able to satisfy your follow up questions to show extenuating circumstances.
So how do we determine if a bidding contractor is performing safely or not? Well, one measure is to request their OSHA recordable rates along with their NAICS or SIC codes. Then look up their Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) NAICS code rates to see if they are above or below their industry average. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Several hiring clients require potential contactors to complete prequalification questionnaires that will dig deeper into that contractor’s performance record and current operations and programs.
Another option is to subscribe to one of the online contractor management and compliance database sites. These sites act as clearinghouses that collect contractor compliance, safety programs, insurance, and other valuable information in a one-stop shopping format.
A hiring client can rely on the various sites to set default requirements for the type of work they need and the associated criteria that must be met, or the hiring client can modify or specify custom needs that must be met. The scoring for potential contractors typically is graded on some sort of easy to view scale such as green-meets all requirements, yellow-meets most requirements but falls short on one or more non-critical criteria, or red-fails to meet basic or critical criteria. Some score it like school grades A, B, C, D, F.
The advantage of these types of contractor management compliance vetting sites is they have access to a huge database of potential contractors and provide a quick and easy platform for narrowing the field. Of course, once a hiring client has narrowed the field down to a manageable level, it is always prudent to perform a more targeted interview of a potential contractor – and, focusing on safety, is one of the most important considerations!
By taking the steps to evaluate potential contractors not only for their ability to deliver the goods or services you require, but also learning about their past and current safety record and programs just makes good sense. It is also an excellent means of demonstration not only due diligence, but ultimately settling on a contractor that will most likely perform safely at your facility.
Well, there is another old adage that goes like this “Who pays the piper, calls the tune.” Once you have engaged with a contractor, it is imperative that they understand your expectations regarding safety and accept that as part of the job performance. This is the time to ensure that not only legislated safety requirements are met, but also any hiring client safety policies that may exceed OSHA are also explained and understood.
So, you have settled on the contractor and are ready for them to begin work at your facility, or to deliver product. For the product, it is a matter of quality control and ensuring any certifications that you require are met. But when a contractor comes to your facility to begin work, it is important to provide adequate monitoring of the contractor to ensure they are meeting all of your requirements, especially when it comes to safety. Don’t forget that as a hiring client you have responsibilities not only for your employees’ safety, but to a certain degree the safety of the contractor’s employees. If the contractor employees are exposed to a hazard that you as the host employer created or control, then there are certainly liabilities that you must consider. Because of this, it is very important to develop and follow a program for monitoring the work activities and safety performance of ALL employees on your site, both your employees and any contractor employees.
Pat Furr is a chief instructor, technical consultant, VPP Coordinator and Corporate Safety Officer for Roco Rescue, Inc. As a chief instructor, he teaches a wide variety of technical rescue classes including Fall Protection, Rope Access, Tower Work/Rescue and Suspended Worker Rescue. In his role as technical consultant, he is involved in research and development, writing articles, and presenting at national conferences. He is also a member of the NFPA 1006 Technical Rescue Personnel Professional Qualifications Standard. Prior to joining Roco in 2000, he served 20 years in the US Air Force as a Pararescueman (PJ).