Managing contractors

Key messages

Employers need to choose and assess contractors as carefully as they do when recruiting their own permanent staff. This includes:

Where contractors or subcontractors are employed, the site operator or principal employer should make sure that they fit in with the overall work scheme, without increasing risks unnecessarily.

Questions to ask

Before the contractors begin, the site controller and any contractors due to work on the site should agree – in written contract – on the answers to these questions:

  • What needs to be done to ensure vehicle safety before the contractor starts work?
  • Who will do the work?
  • What vehicles will they use?
  • Who will supply the vehicles?
  • Are they fit, competent and qualified to drive or operate the vehicles?
  • What does the contractor need to know about the site? For example:
    • routes;
    • vehicles and equipment;
    • specific hazards; and
    • people on the site, including other contractors and visiting drivers.
  • How will the contractor's work be supervised?
  • What will happen if the contractor is not satisfied with the safe working practice on the site?
  • What are the penalties for unsafe safe working practices, including abuse of drugs or alcohol?

If either the contractor or the site controller anyone has doubts about the proposed safety arrangements, they should say so, and take all reasonable steps to improve the arrangements and revise the written contract before the work starts.

The site operator or principal employer should check that the contractor and (through the contractor) any subcontractor is fit and competent to do the work. Check, for example, that

  • the contractor chooses and trains employees to the necessary standards and that they are suitably competent;
  • on previous contracts, the contractor has followed safe working practices (where possible, check the contractor's accident and ill-health record); and
  • any vehicles the contractor uses in the workplace are suitable for their intended purpose and are, and will continue to be, properly maintained.

Licensing systems can be a useful way of controlling the work activities of contractors and subcontractors. Licences to operate on site are issued for certain periods, and are only renewed if contractors have behaved satisfactorily.

When a contractor employs subcontractors, the contractor can clearly use similar checks and supervision to control the subcontractors' work. The site operator will usually need evidence from the contractor that adequate controls over subcontractors are in place.

Contractors should be in no doubt that they are responsible for their own employees and their activities.

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Updated 2021-11-17