Managing Sub-contractors

Sub-contractor competency

The Health & Safety Executive has an excellent leaflet available to download on Using Contractors.  Both you and your contractors have responsibilities under health & safety law to ensure that the risks involved in carrying out your work are controlled.

You need to collect evidence that the contractor has the necessary training, skills, knowledge and experience to undertake the work you’ve contracted them for.

Briefing the work

You need to clearly set out what the work you require to be done and any risks need to be considered when undertaking it. For example you may want to consider:

  • The location of the work eg. is a festival event site going to be muddy
  • The timings of the work eg. will there be overnight shifts involved
  • Will any specialist equipment be required eg. access equipment like cherry pickers
  • Will any other work or contractors happening in the same area

Selecting a suitable contractor

Download an example of a simple questionnaire form – questionnaires should be tailored to each project to ensure that information being collected is relevant.

When selecting a contractor, they need to provide evidence that they have the training, experience, skill and knowledge to complete the tasks you are going to set them.

Many people use a contractor questionnaire to gather this information as part of the bidding or tender process. The key evidence you are trying to gather includes:

  • What training does the contractor’s team have that is applicable to the tasks they are undertaking? If they are driving forklifts for example, can they provide training records and licences for their crew?
  • What experience do they have of delivering projects of a similar scale? Can this be used to prove that they have the skills & knowledge to undertake this project?
  • How do they manage their health & safety both internally and when they are working onsite?

Once a contractor has been selected you need to ensure that they submit adequate risk assessments and method statements for the work that they will be carrying out before they arrive onsite. Reviewing this paperwork will allow you to ensure that they have considered the relevant risks and have put control measures in place to reduce or eliminate them.

These sub-contractor Risk Assessments and Method Statements (RAMS) should be added as an appendices to your finished safety plan.

It is also your responsibility to check that a subcontractor is carrying out their work on site in accordance with their risk assessments and ensure that the control measures they’ve identified are being implemented. If you do not have a full time management presence onsite to supervise the work then you should schedule in spot inspections or a similar method for monitoring their work.

Vicarious responsibility

Whilst the contractor costs will be a vital part of any project, an equal amount of weight needs to be given to ensuring that they can deliver the contract safely.

It is an important legal point to note that when you employ a sub-contractor you are at least partly responsible any accidents or incidents that occur as part of that contract. The term for this is ‘vicarious responsibility‘ which means being held responsible for the actions or omissions of another. 

In the event of an accident caused by of one of your sub-contractors (or employees) you will need to show that you have done everything reasonably practical to prevent that accident.

For example you might need to prove that:

  • The contractor / employee had sufficient training, skills, experience and knowledge to carry out the job
  • They had sufficiently assessed the risks of the tasks and had implemented appropriate control measures
  • They were being adequately supervised or inspected to ensure control measures were being implemented
  • They had sufficient time & resources to carry out the task
  • The site they were working on was well managed and site specific hazards were communicated in advance

Failure to prove these points in either a crown or civil court could result in you being found at least partly liable for the failings of your subcontractor which could result in a fines, civil damages or in the world case scenario prison for the responsible company director.