Contractor Safety and Compliance – Yes, it Really is Your Problem

Jul 12, 2021 JHSC, Safety Culture

I am not sure if any of you have ever taken a JSHC refresher course, but part of the session sees the instructor asking participants how they have actually applied the knowledge from their original certification.

The answers vary from “oh, we rolled out a complete safety program and the JHSC facilitates its maintenance” to the very different “so… I haven’t touched the green book since our last course”.

I get it; every organization has a different health and safety culture. It should be obvious now, but we at IST are keen on hearing this first response and are here to help when we get the second. 

Recently, that second scenario was just such the case. Not because the client’s workplace had many issues – it was the complete opposite.

Their JHSC had not found much, nothing they actually needed to accomplish. They had implemented controls in all the right places and contracted out any work that they felt could be too high risk for their staff.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? So far, I’m impressed!

When I inquired a little further about their contractor safety program, just looking for something to connect them with the course contents, I got it. “What do you mean contractor safety? I thought that was their issue, not ours?” If you consider that it is their (the contractors) internal responsibly system that should protect the contract workers, yes, that is correct.

But life isn’t that straightforward now, is it?

What they do in YOUR facility can impact YOUR workers that are present. So it is nothing else than another hazard we have to recognize, assess, control, and evaluate. 


Now being in HR, I am generally one for producing documentation. It’s in my very nature. And one could think that covering contractors as an element in your health and safety program is really just that, documentation.

But also, as someone who works in safety, I see the importance of working in a controlled environment. If you don’t set down some ground rules for contractors, don’t be surprised if you catch them doing something funky. By the way, “funky” in a safety context is usually not a good thing.

In a previous post, we covered the four stages of learning – and in that post reveals the issue at hand – competence.

Being a competent person under that act is “knowledge, training, and experience.” So if you are bringing in workers OUTSIDE of your internal responsibility system, how will you ensure their actions do not affect their safety or that of your workers?

You should start with a contractor safety program to ensure their competence in your workplace. 

Contractor Safety Program

Before we get into it, if you need some motivation as to why this is anything beyond best practice, let’s look at the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Under Part VII, Notices, S. 51(1) it states,

“Where a person is killed or critically injured from any cause at a workplace, the constructor if any, and the employer shall notify an inspector, and the committee, health and safety representative and trade union, if any, immediately of the occurrence by telephone or other direct means and the employer shall, within forty-eight hours after the occurrence, send to a Director a written report of the circumstances of the occurrence containing such information and particulars as the regulations prescribe.”

It doesn’t say your worker; it says a person

Now, if you want further information about what constitutes a person, you can see that the Ontario Court of Appeal gave direction in 2013. The Canadian Legal Information Institute quoted the court by listing the following requirements for Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development involvement.

They summarize the ruling into the following requirements:

  • a worker or non-worker (“any person”) is killed or critically injured; death or critical injury occurs at a place where 
  • a worker is carrying out his or her employment duties at the time the incident occurs, or, a place where a worker might reasonably be expected to be carrying out such duties in the ordinary course of his or her work (“workplace”); and,
  • there is some reasonable nexus or connection between the hazard giving rise to the death or critical injury and a realistic risk to worker safety at that workplace (“from any cause”).

This means that even if a person who doesn’t work for your organization gets hurt while performing their duties in your facility – you can be on the hook

So going back to that notion of the contractor safety program, what exactly should it entail?

Well, it is nothing more than an expansion of the set expectations of your employer to those performing work in your organization. You have to ensure they have the knowledge, training, and experience to perform that work safely.  It starts with a commitment to safety. 

As an employer you must recognize that it makes good business sense to direct and promote the safety of contractors and contract workers. 

By assuming a leadership role, the employer can minimize unnecessary risks and costs associated with preventable injuries. To ensure the safety and health of individuals, facilities, and the environment, the employer must only hire contractors with a proven health and safety record. This helps demonstrate those contractors have knowledge and training.

Following confirmation of a contract, the employer will take every reasonable precaution to protect the safety of the Contractor and contract workers during the contract – applying due diligence, not different from their own workers. 

The next step, after commitment, is communication.

I can’t tell you how many contractor safety policies and procedures I, even as a trainer, not performing work per se, have to follow to be permitted in a client’s facility. Some have to be reviewed, signed, and returned before I arrive, while others are reviewed and witnessed by a client contact.

This element confirms how their experience, and therefore their competence, can be tied to your organization’s health and safety program. 

Examples of commonly found instructions include:

  • If you need to be working near our Workers, please make them aware of your presence.
  • Our processes at the Company may create hazards. As a result, we require all of our Workers, Contractors and Subcontractors to wear appropriate PPE when working in our establishments.
  • When chemicals are being used in our workplace, it is a requirement that the people using the chemicals wear appropriate personal protective equipment. The Contractor provides gloves, aprons, goggles and facemasks for use with our specific chemicals. If you require any additional protective equipment for your process, you are responsible for providing and wearing the appropriate equipment.
  • Any chemicals brought into our facility must be approved by the Company’s point of contact and accompanied by a current SDS.
  • Upon your arrival at our facility, you will be directed to the area where you will be working, and you will be informed of the areas that you are permitted access to. Contractors are not to walk through our facility unescorted unless the Company’s point of contact has given them authorization.
  • Smoking is strictly prohibited inside our establishments and is only permitted in designated areas outside.
  • In the event of an emergency evacuation, you may be escorted out of the facility and to the designated assembly area, where you will receive instructions from the Company’s point of contact.
  • If you are not escorted, please make your way to the nearest safe exit and assemble with other workers.
  • The Company has a Lock-out/Tag-out policy.  If you are working on or near any hazardous energy sources, you must first discuss the Lock-out/Tag-out procedures with the Company’s point of contact and ensure that you use the appropriate Lock-out/Tag-out equipment.
  • If you are injured while working in our workplace, you must immediately report the injury to the Company’s point of contact.
  • If you identify a hazard while working in our workplace, you must immediately report the hazard to the Company’s point of contact.
  • You are responsible for keeping your work area clean and clear of hazards at all times.
  • You will be expected to comply with all Health and Safety legislation and follow all safety rules communicated to you.
  • When you arrive at our facility, you must enter through a designated entrance and sign-in on the Visitors’ Log Book.  You will be required to sign out upon completion of your work.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this looks great on paper, but how well it works in practice is another question.

It really comes down to your organization’s overall safety culture. I can walk into a facility and determine pretty quickly if they walk the walk or just talk the talk. If I see that their workers are not held to account, I know that no one will bother with me – and if I so chose – I could do what I wanted.

That is not an ideal situation to walk into as a safety trainer. There are definitely challenges associated with contractors because remember, they don’t always see you as their boss. 

Hiring a competent person on paper still involves ensuring they can apply that knowledge, training, and experience in your environment, as mentioned above. So part of the contactor safety program has to have some elements of enforcement.

Whether it be contractor monitoring, infraction documentation, listed disciplinary measures, to discharge from your facility – these elements need to be utilized to ensure the workplace is safe for a “persons.”

Think about your own staff; if you didn’t enforce your organization’s safety rules, how many would follow them on their own? In a way, the question is a good litmus test for your overall safety culture. 

So in your next JHSC refresher session, if the instructor asks what you have applied from your last session – if you say nothing as you didn’t need to – that’s awesome. If you are unsure, remember, we are trained to recognize all hazards, potential and actual, and we can talk it out.

I am sure that other participants will benefit from our discussion. 

Geoff Rowatt | CHRL
Industrial Safety Trainers Inc.

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