Your safety culture—the attitudes and habits underlying health and safety practices and compliance programs in your workplace—is an essential hazard control. It can be difficult to build but easy to destroy, and one thing that can destroy your carefully constructed safety culture is a permissive attitude toward the safety practices of your contractors and suppliers.
But how can an organization and its environment, health, and safety (EHS) team expect to consistently exert a positive influence on the safety cultures of their contractors, suppliers, and vendors? After all, it can be challenging enough to create and maintain a strong safety culture within the bounds of your own company. Fortunately, research into safety practices provides some helpful guidelines for extending an excellent culture throughout the supply chain.
A study by the National Safety Council’s Campbell Institute identified best practices for contractor and supplier safety. The study looked at the practices of 14 Campbell Institute member or partner organizations with exemplary safety records (i.e., those with injury rates 6.5 times lower than industry averages and lost workday rates 6 times lower than industry averages) with respect to contractor and supplier safety. These employers utilize five key steps in order to manage supplier and contractor safety:
- Prejob task and risk assessment
- Training and orientation
- Job monitoring
- Postjob evaluation
Keep reading to learn more about how these strategies can help you to expand your safety culture to your contractors and suppliers.
A Five-Step Program
According to the research, these five crucial points in the relationship between an employer and a contractor or supplier provide opportunities for when the employer should evaluate and take an active role in the contractor/supplier’s safety culture. These five points in more detail are:
1. Prequalification. Before you ever begin working with a contractor or supplier, you should evaluate its safety record. The Campbell Institute study noted that all of its research participants do this, requesting safety statistics from prospective contractors and suppliers that include:
- Experience modification rate (EMR)
- Total recordable incident rate (TRIR)
- Fatality rate
- Days away from work, restricted or transferred (DART) rate
- Other OSHA recordables
Most of the study participants used a 3-year benchmark, and many requested additional information from prospective contractors/suppliers, such as environmental reports, and information about written safety programs, permits, and licenses, and continuous improvement programs.
Based on the prequalification findings, the study participants determine whether a potential contractor/supplier has a “passing grade”—a safety record and safety culture that makes them eligible to work with the employer. Prospective contractors/suppliers with failing grades are not offered contracts.
2. Prejob task and risk assessment. Before a contracted job begins, the participants in the Campbell Institute study perform a risk assessment and assign a “risk category” to the work being performed. These evaluations include not just an assessment of the work being performed but also of the contractor’s proposed work procedure and safety programs. Higher-risk jobs may invoke additional requirements for in-depth risk assessment, the preparation of additional written programs, or other safety-related requirements.
In addition, the companies in the study typically require subcontractors to adhere to the same safety standards as general contractors—in other words, if the employer hires a general contractor to complete a specific job, and that contractor hires subcontractors, the general contractor is held responsible by the employer for enforcing on its subcontractors the same safety standards that it was required to meet in order to land the contract in the first place.
3. Training and orientation. All of the survey participants are sticklers for contractor training, requiring on-site safety orientation for all contract workers, as well as skills training relevant to their job task assignments. Contractors are required to complete training programs as needed in confined space entry, electrical, hot work, hazardous energy control, forklifts, elevated work, and any other site-specific hazard training. Some of the study participants provided even more specialized training for contractors in areas like Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) and personal protective equipment (PPE).
4. Job monitoring. It’s essential to keep track of the job while it’s ongoing. Every survey participant had a regular monitoring program in place for contractors. Depending on the risk profile of the job and the contractor, monitoring might include daily checklists, preshift safety talks, weekly walk-through inspections, or monthly and yearly assessments. Survey participants also routinely reviewed contractors’ incident logs, and had a procedure for contractors to submit safety observations and report unsafe conditions. More than half of the survey participants had specific procedures in place to deal with contractor infractions of employer safety rules.
5. Postjob evaluation. For the survey participants, this was the least-utilized tool— but many of the participants who did not have a postjob evaluation procedure in place state that this was an area they felt needed improvement.
Of the study participants who did have postjob evaluation procedures in place, they tended to look at safety, customer service, and the quality of the finished work and to use those factors in determining the contractor’s eligibility for future contracts.
Extend Your Safety Culture Beyond Your Organization
Safety and health must be core values for every successful organization, and in today’s interconnected economy it is important to ensure that these core values are shared by your company’s business partners as well. As with all things related to EHS, it requires effort—but that effort pays off in multiple ways, from lower injury rates across the board to greater worker satisfaction to increased productivity and performance.
While it may be unlikely that an organization can fully instill an ideal safety culture at every single level of its supply chain, looking the other way simply is not an option if you recognize potential EHS issues within your supply chain. These five strategies can help encourage positive behaviors and work practices among contractors and suppliers that will not only decrease the risk of compliance failures but also increase the likelihood of mutually beneficial cultural improvements.
The Campbell Institute at the National Safety Council is the Center of Environment, Health, and Safety Excellence. Its mission is to help organizations achieve and sustain EHS excellence through research, membership and events.