By Dale Jones, Technical Director at Alcumus SafeContractor.
When the easing of lockdown measures began in mid-May, many businesses began a journey to assess the Coronavirus risks that applied to their workplaces. To make sure their working environments were COVID Secure, they went on to develop additional physical and procedural measures.
Businesses are becoming more familiar with the nature of the risks from virus transmission and how to apply the applicable controls for the activities performed on their site. However, there is still confusion on how to manage contractors during the ongoing pandemic.
More and more stalled plans are back online as businesses work hard to increase their operational efficiency. The availability and usage of contractors sitting within the organisation’s supply chain is slowly returning to pre-COVID levels. For example, the easing of lockdown brought a 25% increase in the number of assessments submitted for audit, indicating an increase in business activity as they prepare to re-start operations and win new work.
Who holds the responsibility for managing the risks of COVID transmission when working with contractors and is there anything new the procuring client should be doing?
The basic principles typically followed when looking to engage with contractors within the supply chain hasn’t changed since the start of the pandemic.
The client holds overall responsibility for safety at their location, however, the contractors undertaking work on the project will need to manage their individual COVID-19 responsibilities appropriately.
The points that need to be considered:
Make sure all contractors sitting within your supply chain have developed robust COVID-19 protocols to manage the risk of virus transmission during projects.
As a client you hold a legal requirement to ensure all contractors used have the relevant organisational capability to manage their health and safety responsibilities. This is typically undertaken as part of a pre-qualification exercise that will help to determine the appropriate contractor for the project. At this stage you will need to make sure that contractors within your supply chain have appropriate procedures and the capability to create risk assessments that include their precautions for COVID-19.
Develop and implement suitable and sufficient procedures to gain effective control, coordination, cooperation and communication of all contractor works.
As the client, you are responsible for ensuring that all parties share key risk-based information and procedures. You will also need to review the number of contractors or workers able to attend the site at any one time. While there is no strict limit on this, COVID-19 guidance advises businesses to restrict their number of visitors. Which means, you may need to look at limiting working times and checking work schedules to look at reducing the interaction and overlap between different groups of workers.
Prior to a contractor attending your facility, you will need to provide them with the necessary information and instruction on the existing safety requirements for your site.
As a client you will need to inform contractors of your procedures and assessments for managing the risk of virus transmission. You will also need to make sure that their individual workers have received the relevant induction training prior to starting the project, this will ensure that the individuals are aware of the existing risks and procedures for the facility and determine the appropriate controls that will need to be taken and followed.
Before starting the actual project review the projects specific risk assessments and method statements.
As well as project specific hazards such as working at height, manual handling, slips, trips and falls, you will need to ensure that they have appropriately covered the risks of COVID-19 transmission and have developed a working practice that will allow them to follow the relevant social distancing guidelines.
For high risk works establish and implement a Permit to Work process.
This will ensure robust management protocols and resources have been applied to tasks. You will need to ensure permit to works are only issued by suitably competent and appropriately authorised persons.
Depending on the nature of the work, the risks involved and the length of the project you would need to monitor contractor performance at appropriate intervals.
As a client you will need to make sure that arrangements are made for managing health and safety during the project. If any contractor is found not to be adhering to the proposed controls to manage the risk of virus transmission, you will need to ensure the contractor takes appropriate corrective action.
Reviewing overall contractor performance at the end of each contract and implementing, where practicable, any significant findings.
This will help to determine how you may manage a similar project differently or whether the contractor will remain within your supply chain.