Managing contractors, part I
Here, Louise Hosking looks at aspects of safety, health and environment within the residential lettings sector.
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As specialists in managing safety across the property sector, we work with our clients to introduce realistic and practical arrangements for all aspects of safety, health and the environment. One of the hardest areas to implement is in respect of contractor management. In the residential lettings sector, this can be harder to implement especially for organisations working with smaller landlords.
Section 3 of Health & Safety at Work Act 1974[i] states that it:
‘Shall be the duty of every employer to conduct their undertaking in such a way as to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons not in their employment are not exposed to risk.’
Part (3) of this section expressly requires employers, and self-employed persons, to provide non-employees with information which might affect their health or safety.
Additional requirements are contained within the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007[ii] (CDM) which contains information on the responsibilities of clients, engaging the services of contractors, principal (main) contractors, contractors, designers and workers.
It is actually from the inception of these regulations in 1994 that guidance and arrangements for managing the work of contractors and warning them of known hazards has been refined.
The HSE has published guidance for small and medium sized companies on principals to consider[iii].
The main problem has always been the perception that:
- If the services of a contractor are procured, it is their responsibility to work safely as the expert.
- Because a contractor is not an employee, less is required when in actual fact a different approach is necessary.
Small & medium sized letting companies may rely on landlords directly to agree costs for maintenance and repair. If there is a conflict between safety and price, there is pressure to accept the cheapest quote which may involve working in a manner that is not the safest.
Traditionally, there are fewer requirements and less HSE enforcement of contractors working in the residential sector. However, this is likely to change in the future with domestic work being included within the new CDM requirements expected in early 2015 to align the UK with the mobile sites directive which expects domestic clients be included.
Similarly, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 applies to non-domestic clients and property. This is often translated that anyone engaging the services of a contractor for work within a residential dwelling does not apply. This is not the case. Section 3 of Health & Safety at Work Act applies to anyone commissioning maintenance and/or repair as part of their business, and the duty to manage asbestos[iv] is relevant in respect of common parts. In the residential lettings sector, confusion can therefore occur.
Anyone involved in residential lettings should therefore have a process in place for managing their contractors safely.
Agree Clear Responsibilities
The first stage of this process is to ensure responsibilities are clearly understood. Where letting agents are responsible for maintenance and repair, they will also be responsible for ensuring legal requirements are met.
The tenancy or lease agreement must clearly outline which aspects the tenant is responsible for, and which the letting agent will undertake. Similarly, the management agreement with the landlord should clearly outline how responsibilities for managing safety, when engaging the services of contractors, will be met.
Hire Competent Contractors
Anyone hiring or organizing the work of contractors must have a process in place for ensuring they are competent. This means they have the experience, qualifications, knowledge and resources to undertake the work safely.
This may not be a straight-forward task because it relies upon a certain amount of expertise on the part of the agent to understand whether the qualifications held by a contractor are current, or even relevant. All letting agents will have Gas Safe registered engineers available to undertake annual gas safety checks. The Gas Safe[v] website allows agents to verify the engineers they engage are qualified to work on gas.
However, how do you verify that a builder is competent or that a window cleaner has safe arrangements in place to work at height safely? If a contractor has been working for a long period of time without incident, this is not in isolation a measure of competency.
The safety schemes in procurement scheme[vi] (SSiP) provides advice on this. It aims to assist both clients and contractors by listing registered members who run schemes which will assess the competency of small, medium and large contractors. In many cases, this is at little or no cost to the agent and a nominal cost to contractors (depending on their size).
Agents can either operate their own scheme using a pre-qualification questionnaire (PQQ), or rely upon SSiP registered member schemes to undertake this. The benefit of agents registering as clients with one of these schemes is they can track contractor progress in respect of compliance online, and most schemes flag, for example, if a contractors insurance is out of date.
There must be some control on who is being used, so from this process a definitive list of competent contractors is created.
Under the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012, it is a legal requirement for contractors who could accidentally come into contact with asbestos to receive asbestos awareness training. All the SSiP schemes will expect contractors to provide evidence that this is the case.
It can be difficult for agents who have been using small local contractors to make this change, but most of the schemes operate a PQQ process which is achievable even for these individuals. However, if these contractors cannot meet the expected standard within a reasonable timescale, difficult decisions may have to be made especially if they are undertaking higher risk work involving ladders, work at height, or work on gas or electrical supplies.
Exchange Safety Information
Most maintenance and repair will be fairly standard, and high risk work less common. It should therefore be possible for letting agents to work with their contractors to agree how they will work safely. Obviously, if letting agents work with an approved list of contractors who have been through an SSiP scheme, this process will be much more straight forward.
Contractor safety management should be a two way communication. The letting agent will set the standards they expect, so providing site rules as part of contractor engagement is a good idea. These can include general standards of conduct as well as Health & Safety.
The letting agent should also be prepared to provide information on hazards of which they are aware. This should definitely include any information on asbestos where surveys are available. For work within homes that may not have been subject to a survey, an approximate age of the property will provide a contractor with an indication of whether they should alter the manner in which they work.
In return, the contractor should provide information on how they will conduct their work safely. As a minimum for contractors who have gone through an SSiP process, this should include evidence of their staff training, their risk and method statements for the tasks they will undertake, and their insurance information. Contractors removing waste from site should also provide waste carrier information.[vii]
Once risk assessments have been provided, there must be a process of discussion on safe working practices. Contractor risk and method statements (RAMs) should have been created based on the hierarchy of risk control. Sometimes this means work can be more expensive to undertake safely. For example, the use of ladders[viii] to clean windows or clear gutters several stories high should be avoided in favour of reach & wash systems or the use of access equipment. Work beside unprotected roof edges or fragile materials will also require additional controls which may make the work more expensive. By insisting on an unsafe working practice, the agent may be placing themselves into a position of culpability in the event of an incident occurring.
Regular meetings arranged with frequently used contractors should include discussions on safety and the agent’s expectations of in respect of safety standards.
The agent should also undertake an occasional spot check to verify contractors are working safely, and in the manner which has been agreed within their RAMs. This does not have to be onerous, and could simply include verification that the contractor is using the equipment or personal protective equipment stated in their RAMs. Equally, are they working in a tidy and professional manner?
Managing Work on Site
If there is a manager on site contractors should be expected to sign in and undergo an induction process, being reminded of any site rules, general conduct, known site hazards and emergency arrangements. They should be issued with a contractor pass as part of this process. Contractors must be discouraged from accessing large sites and starting work without letting the onsite manager know that they are there
In most cases there will not be someone on site to sign in contractors but practical controls can still be instigated.
The letting agent should always know when contractors will be working. In most cases residents may have to be warned that work will be undertaken. All contractors should carry photo ID and confirmation that they are a contractor engaged by the letting agent.
Contractors should similarly be inducted but this may be as part of a regular meeting or routine contact. An arrangement can be made with larger contractors to provide the induction information to them and request that they manage this process, providing information on who has been inducted and when. New contractors should be inducted on their first day and then every 6-12 months depending on the nature of their work and risk.
Agents should be prepared to spot check contractors on an occasional basis. This does not have to be complicated or onerous. For example, if contractors have said that certain personal protective (PPE) will be used a spot check can confirm that this is indeed the case. The spot check can also be made to verify that work standards & quality are as expected.
Good communication is critical and regular contact with contractors which includes discussions on safety standards and how work will be undertaken and planned will continue to achieve high standards.
Contractors should also be encouraged to report back on any hazards that they identify on site and if they have an accident whilst working.
High Risk Work?
Falls from height remain the most common cause of fatal injuries in the UK, accounting for nearly a third of all fatal injuries to workers[ix] Work involving gas appliances and hot work should also be considered high risk.
For high risk working, the agent should ensure they understand exactly how the work will be undertaken, and the precautions that will be taken. RAMs must be site specific, especially where difficult access arrangements are required.
Look to create a permit to work system[x]. This is a management systems that describes how the work will be undertaken safely and helps to communicate this clearly to the people undertaking the work.
A permit to work will contain the following key criteria:
- Identification of the person or persons authorized to undertake the work
- Identification of the person or persons responsible for specifying necessary precautions
- The duration of the work
- Identification of the key hazards and precise nature of how these will be controlled
- Tasks to be undertaken against which risk assessments should have been created
- Clear information regarding the training and instructions then supervision of the work to ensure that it is undertaken in line with an agreed site specific risk assessment
- Details of any other work being undertaken at the time and control measures identified as a result of this
- How the work will be checked or audited during the work
- How the work will be checked, to confirm a safe condition, after it has been completed and the permit signed off.
Permits can be over used and it is important to avoid this.
In general permits are best suited to maintenance, repair, dismantling modification, cleaning work that is:
- Non Routine
- Requiring two or more individuals to coordinate activities e.g. during a specific isolation
- High Risk e.g. work at height, hot works, electrical isolations
*Louise Hosking MCIEH CMIOSH RMaPS AIEMA SIIRSM is a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and Director at Hosking Associates Ltd.