Employers have Occupational Health & Safety (‘OHS’) duties for the safe management of contractors. Victorian OHS law does not define the meaning of a contractor. A contractor can be an individual who is either self-employed or employed by another, that is engaged to provide services for a business. Contractors are often hired for their services rather than their time. In workplaces, examples of contractors may include electricians, plumbers or professional cleaners.
The OHS management of contractors can be challenging due to a lack of awareness of the OHS responsibilities in relation to contractors. Contractors are also often undertaking high risk work which can cause a serious injury or death.
Employers have a lot of OHS duties in relation to contractors, which includes: 
- Provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health
- Prevent risks from use, handling, storage and transport from plant or substances
- Provide adequate facilities for the welfare of contractors
- Provide information, instruction, training and supervision to contractors to enable them to work safely
- Monitor conditions in the workplace
- Not expose contractors to risks from their conduct
- Ensuring the workplace including the means of entering and exiting is without risks to health
- To consult when identifying, assessing and controlling risks that are likely to affect contractors
- To consult when making decisions about the adequacy of facilities for contractors
- To consult when making procedures of issue resolution, consultation, monitoring conditions, information and training
- To consult when determining the membership of any health and safety committee
- To consult when proposing any changes that may affect the safety of contractors
- To notify WorkSafe of a notifiable incident involving a contractor at the workplace
- To preserve the incident site of a notifiable incident involving a contractor
Employers should implement systems and controls in place to comply with their duties. This may include the following systems and controls. Note this is not an exhaustive list and simply provides an example of the actions employers can take to comply with their duties.
Contractor Pre-engagement Check
Prior to engaging a contractor, enquiries should be made to determine whether the contractor can comply with their OHS responsibilities and work safely. This may include obtaining the following documentation prior to allowing the contractor to commence work:
- Copy of Safe Working Method Statement (SWMS) or Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Risk Assessment
- Copy of their safe working procedure relevant to the task
- Copies of training records of SWMS, JSA, safe working procedures
- Copy of their incident reporting procedure and emergency contact details
- Copy of any high-risk work licence (e.g. Electrical licence)
- Copies of relevant insurance – public liability, professional indemnity, WorkCover
- Copies of any maintenance records of equipment used for work
- Copies of any testing and inspection requirements for equipment used for work
Employers should check whether the contractor has implemented a documented OHS management system. Employers should also make enquiries whether the contractor or their company has been prosecuted or fined for any OHS breaches.
The SWMS, JSA or risk assessment are important safety documents. These documents should identify all hazards and risks associated with the tasks being undertaken and the control measures to be implemented to control the risk. The quality of these documents can provide an indication of the standard of OHS management within that company. Documents of low standard are generic, incomplete, outdated and often include minimal risk controls. This may be an indication that the management of OHS is not the highest priority for that company.
It is important employers check the quality of these critical documents prior to engaging the contractor. Employers should prioritise engaging companies that can demonstrate a high standard of OHS management to comply with these requirements.
Employers should also consider specifying the above OHS requirements in any written contracts.
Contractor Attendance Register
Employers should ensure a register or system is implemented which can record the details of contractors visiting and departing site. This register should be accessible in the event of an emergency to account for the presence of contractors on site. The contractor register should record details of the contractor’s name, company name, time of arrival, location in workplace, mobile contact details, and departure time.
Contractor Induction & Training
A specific contractor induction should be developed for the workplace. The contractor induction should inform contractors of the hazards, risks on the work site and the control measures implemented to control the risks. The induction should also include essential information on the management of OHS on site, such as incident reporting, site contact details, first aid, emergency procedures etc.
The contractor induction should include a competency assessment to verify the individual has understood the contents of the induction. The assessment should include questions on hazards, risks and important risk controls on site. Employers should ensure this assessment is not a ‘tick and flick’ exercise, which can compromise the management of OHS on site.
Employers should record details of when inductions have been completed using a register or alternative system. The contractor induction should be required to be completed periodically for contractors returning on site. The frequency should be determined in consideration of the work tasks, risks and controls in the workplace.
Pre-Work OHS Meeting
An OHS meeting should be held by the employer’s representative and the contractor prior to the contractor commencing work. The objective of this OHS meeting is to ensure:
- The contractor has completed the employer’s induction
- The contractor has copies of the relevant safety documentation (SWMS, JSA, Risk assessments)
- The contractor has current work licences where required
- The contractor is able to implement the required risk controls in the safety documentation and required by the employer
- Any equipment used for work has been inspected and tagged where required
- The contractor has the required Personal Protective Equipment
- The contractor has the appropriate Safety Data Sheets where required
This meeting is an important opportunity for the employer to check that the contractor is able to conduct the task safely. The employer should use this opportunity to check the SWMS/JSA or risk assessment of the tasks with the contractor and to clarify any concerns.
The contractor should also be provided access to any other OHS resource by the employer, such as relevant safety procedures, any supporting safety equipment or other resource required to conduct the task(s) safely.
High Risk Work Permit
High risk work should be controlled by a permit system to ensure risk controls have been implemented. High risk work includes the following types of work:
- Work that requires a high risk work licence under the regulations
- Work that is identified as high risk construction work, includes:
- Working at height of more than 2 metres
- Working on telecommunications tower
- Involving demolition
- Working in area of extreme artificial temperature
- Removal or disturbance of Asbestos
- Involving confined space
- Involving structural alterations that require temporary support
- Involving a trench or shaft of a depth of more than 1.5 metres
- Involving a tunnel
- Involving the use of explosives
- On or near pressurised gas distribution mains or piping
- On or near chemical, fuel or refrigerant lines
- On or near energised electrical installations
- In an area of contaminated or flammable atmosphere
- Involving tilt up or precast concrete
- On or adjacent to roadways or railways
- At workplaces where there is any movement of powered mobile plant
- In or near water where there is a risk of drowning
- Involving diving
A SWMS must be completed for high risk work. A high risk work permit should only be issued once the above requirements detailed under the OHS meeting section have been complied with. The high risk work permit should be for a specified amount of time and should ensure the required controls are implemented to manage the risks.
Employers should ensure contractors performing work are adequately supervised. This is especially important where high risk work is undertaken, which has an increased risk of serious injury or death. Supervision assists in ensuring contractors are complying with the risk controls and can also be provided with immediate assistance in the case of an emergency.
Contractor Work Inspections
Employers should conduct random or scheduled inspections on contractors performing work, to check compliance with risk controls. This is especially important in large workplaces where there may be a large number of contractors working. The contractor inspections should check compliance with risk controls, such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) requirements, safe working procedures, isolation and lock out, barriers, spotters, and safety documentation. The contractor inspections should be documented with records maintained for auditing purposes.
If non-conformances are identified, work should be stopped in a safe manner until the issue(s) have been rectified.
Repeat or serious non-conformances should be recorded using a contractor non-conformance form. This form should record the details of the non-conformance and the corrective actions required with the given time frame. This form should be sent to the contractor’s employer for action. Actions should be tracked until closed out.
Post Work OHS Meeting
A meeting should be held with the contractor post conclusion of the work. The objective of the meeting should be to review any OHS issues encountered with the work tasks. An inspection of the work area should be undertaken with the contractor to ensure it has been left in a tidy and safe state without any hazards. Any hazards identified should be rectified by the contractor prior to departure from the workplace.
Any relevant OHS issues should be communicated to other contractors or employees that may impact their health or safety. The communication should include any risk controls required to control the risk. Relevant OHS issues can also be reported to the site OHS committee. The site OHS committee should include representation from any permanent site-based contractors.
Incident Reporting & Investigation
Employers should ensure incident reporting and investigation procedures are established that includes procedures for contractors. Any incident involving contractors should be reported and investigated with control measures implemented to prevent recurrence. Notifiable incidents involving contractors during work engaged by the employer, should be reported to WorkSafe according to the required time frames. Incident sites of notifiable incidents should be preserved as required. A detailed investigation should be undertaken of notifiable incidents in conjunction with the contracting company.
In conclusion, the OHS responsibilities for contractors are equally important as the OHS responsibilities applying to employees. These OHS responsibilities cannot be ‘contracted’ out and rest with the employer despite the work being performed by another company. Employers should ensure a robust OHS management system is implemented which manages the risks associated with contractors.
 Occupational Health & Safety Act 2004 (Vic) sections 21, 22, 23, 26, 35, 38, 39.
 Occupational Health & Safety Regulations 2017 (Vic) schedule 5.
 ibid section 322.
 ibid section 327.