Three strategies to improve health and safety for contractors

Contractors make up about 25% of the global workforce, but routinely record higher levels of injuries and fatalities than their permanent counterparts. Given the significant penalties and reputational damage associated with a poor safety record, organisations urgently need to assess the performance of their health and safety program for contractors.

Comparing injury rates between contractors and permanent workers is particularly difficult, given the inconsistency and gaps in employers reporting on contractor injuries. Statistics from recent reports indicate that:

Contractor injury rates

Although blue-collar workers are at a higher risk of serious injury, white-collar contractors also report higher than average incidences of repetitive stress injuries, back pain and slips, trips and falls. Regardless of engagement type, all workers, whether they’re permanent, contracted, temporary or flexible, are entitled to a safe working environment. With record numbers of contractors working remotely, employers still have a duty of care to manage risks to a worker at home.

According to the ACCR, a poor approach to external workforce health and safety can lead to ‘increased compensation premiums, decreased productivity and delays, absenteeism, higher health care costs, potential lawsuits, negative publicity, reputational damage, and a loss of investor and consumer trust’. Below, we outline three ways organisations can improve health and safety for contractors.

1. Extend health and safety training and process to contractors

Many organisations have comprehensive processes, policies and training for their permanent workers around health and safety. Few, however, extend the same level of commitment to their external workforce.

Research indicates that, although contractors account for around 32% of average hours worked, they received less education and training on health and safety than permanent employees. Not only are contractors at risk in your organisation, but they may be opening up your other employees to dangers.

Under the Work Health and Safety Act, staffing firms and the host employer have a joint responsibility to ensure the health and safety of workers so far as is reasonably practicable. This sometimes leads to uncertainty as to who’s responsible for training contractors and providing a safe working environment.

For contractors employed by a staffing agency, employers need to clearly define health and safety roles and responsibilities. Ensure that your organisation is providing the same level of training to contractors as they do to workers in permanent positions. Additionally, provide all workers with the appropriate equipment and working conditions.

As an HR outsourcing organisation for our client’s contingent workforces, we have significant experience with external workforce management, involving assessing our clients’ health and safety practices to ensure they align with legislation.

Our onboarding process involves a health and safety declaration that the contractor must sign. During implementation, we review health and safety guidelines and ensure they are incorporated within our declaration.

Additionally, we coordinate and consult with clients and contractors to ensure they receive the necessary training and equipment required to do their tasks and promote a safe and healthy working environment.

2. Ensure contractors are included in your injury management program

All organisations should have a comprehensive injury management program, which keeps track of injury trends, policies and procedures, near-miss investigations and corrective actions. Like permanent workers, contractors should be involved in this program.

According to research from the Harvard Public Health Review, ‘Surveillance programs need to be modernized to more effectively recognize contingent work and its related factors’. Contractors need a dedicated point of contact, whether that be from the staffing agency or host employer, as well as frequent check-ins throughout their contract.

Communication needs to go beyond an induction call – organisations need to ensure the contractor knows who the health and safety officer is in the business and have access to contact information.

Your program should have a comprehensive review process, including:

Health and safety review process

How do we do it?

We have a five-step scale for assessing health and risk for on-hire personnel activities.

The level of risk mitigation imposed on the activity is assessed by job role analysis, desk audits of overall client WHS systems and site visits to assess the relative risk of each role and/or site combination. The higher the number the more steps will be taken to manage the risk.

The risk control measures we deploy are tailored to the risk exposure. The controls are:

  • WHS declaration: To understand work health and safety requirements, contractors perform a risk self-assessment during the onboarding process to identify hazards at the workplace.
  • WHS policy induction:  Induction into CXC’s and the client’s safety policies and procedures. All policies must have a sighed acknowledgement prior to commencement.
  • Client Induction: For contractors in high-risk industrial locations or performing manual labour, an induction into the client’s safety procedures is required on the first day of their engagement.
  • Pre-Employment Assessment: Medical and functional assessment of the contractors for positions in the highest risk category.
  • Site Visit: A site visit at high-risk locations to ensure that appropriate measures are implemented to provide a safe workplace for the workers.

CXC has a dedicated WHS consultant, Kevin Mechelmans, who has developed our policies and processes for managing WHS obligations for our contractors. We also report on lag and lead indicators in quarterly meetings, to monitor trends and ensure our clients are aware of any flare-ups.

3. BUILD A CULTURE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY FOR CONTRACTORS

The nature of contracting creates the perfect storm for occupational hazards. This could be for a number of different reasons:Contractor health and safety risks

Primarily, injuries in the workplace among contractors are directly or indirectly related to how employers and colleagues perceive the cultural differences between permanent and contingent working. Lack of safety training, a poor safety program, minimal reporting of injuries and hazardous working conditions for contractors are all symptoms of a fundamentally toxic safety culture.

Ways to improve the culture in your workplace include:

  1. Give workers the tools to improve their working situation – when contractors are provided education on their rights and responsibilities, they are empowered to minimise hazards and stand up for better conditions. This includes listening to them when they identify problems in the workplace and taking them seriously when they suggest changes.
  2. Correct misunderstandings of process – Because of the separation between engagement types, contractors may not know about what they should do when getting injured. A recent survey found that 50% were unsure whether they were eligible for workers’ compensation, which is a huge factor in underreporting injuries.
  3. Focus on contractor wellbeingAs we’ve previously discussed on our blog, consider the mental health of your contractors, not just their physical health. Make your employee assistance program available to contractors as well.
  4. Consider foreign languages – Many of your contractors may speak English as a second language. Consider making health and safety material available in multiple languages, and ensure your contractors know and understand safety practices.

To help contractors access support when they need it, we provide an Employee Assistance Program through Benestar.

Benestar is a free and confidential counselling service available to all CXC contractors, available free of charge to contractors and their families. Contractors can use Benestar to access hours of health and wellbeing resources anywhere, anytime from their preferred device via their app or website.

As one of the world’s leading providers of contingent worker management solutions, CXC is well positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy. With operations in more than 50 countries across five continents and decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.

If you would like to find out more about how we can help please contact us here.

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