From industrial relations experts, TTIA

It is not unusual for members of TTIA to engage contractors for specific or short term jobs. In fact, some figures estimate that more than 1 million Australians work as contractors. Contractors are hired because of their specific skill set, as well the need not to offer ongoing engagement and be subject to unfair dismissal processes. Put simply, its often easier to terminate the contract.

Risk of Engaging Contractors

Where many employers hit a problem is the understanding of who is responsible for their workplace health and safety. During my time at TTIA, I can recall two nasty incidents in particular, where our member was seriously affected by contractor workplace accidents.

The first involved a contract log truck which delivered logs to our mill member who failed to have their load strapped and loaded safely. During the unloading process, some of the load fell on the driver and resulted in serious injury. In this case, the safety regulators deemed both parties responsible and prosecuted both the contactor and the mill owner.

The second incident also involved a mill owner who had a tradesman performing maintenance on the kiln. The contactor was not properly secured and fell into the kiln. Once again, a lengthy prosecution followed, court costs and fines then followed and incident came close to closing the mill.

The advent of manslaughter legislation being implemented by state governments only further adds to the imperative business needs to apply to the safety protocols involving contractors.

The fact that contractors have a reduced understanding of your safety management systems and are not trained or supervised in the same manner, highlights the potential for workplace hazards to have serious ramifications if an incident arises.

Is your Business responsible for Contractor Safety?

The law considers contractors can be considered both PCBUs (person conducting a business or undertaking) and workers. The harmonised legislation had a clear intent to make it impossible to ‘contract’ out of health and safety by engaging contractors or labour hire workers. Contractors, however, may also engage other workers, and so they need their own health and safety systems. If you hire contractors, you must make sure they have safety systems in place, because you are still responsible for workers employed by that contractor.

A contractor may hire a sub-contractor, who may also hire a sub-contractor, and that may happen several more times. The PCBU with overall ownership or control of the workplace remains the primary ‘duty holder’. Therefore, it is critically important to manage contractors.

If you use contractors, you must ensure they are suitably qualified for the task. This is easier said than done. For most employers in the timber products industry you are probably engaging a contractor because you are not an expert.

Duty of Care toward Contractors

You will need to ask,

  • Do they have the correct licences?
  • Do they have a safe system of work (written)?
  • Do they have workers compensation and public liability insurance?
  • Do they have a risk assessment process?
  • Did you carry out a safety induction and are they familiar with your WHS policies and procedures before they start work.

Remember to show them the emergency exits, first aid area, emergency assembly point, and your requirements for incident reporting.

Contractor Responsibilities

It’s not all one-way traffic. Contractors have a duty of care while on site to their own employees (if not alone) plus everyone else at the workplace. They should ensure their work does not place others at risk.

A Contractor should also demonstrate their own safety management system, discuss with business any WHS risks, and comply with relevant contract specific WHS requirements.

Make Contractor Safety part of your Business

The key point of this article is to highlight there is a definite mutual responsibility and liability in relation to the use of contactors by a business in a WHS sense. There needs to be a thorough consultation and communication process between both parties due to these dual responsibilities.

As a business owner in an industry that presents its fair share of inherent dangers, make sure if you see a contactor engaging in unsafe practices, you tell them. Don’t just rely solely on the contractor to identify and manage hazards.

From industrial relations experts, TTIA

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