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When and How to Use Behavior-Based Safety with Contractors

by Terry McSween, Ph.D.

A common issue in designing a behavior-based safety process for many organizations is what to do about their contractors. Many companies, especially those in construction, marine fabrication, and drilling rely heavily on contract employees. The best approach to this issue is specific to the needs of the organization and not something that is one size fits all. One of the primary factors that determines the approach is the extent to which the organization depends on contract employees and the nature of their work. The following table outlines the most common options and some of the considerations appropriate for most organizations.

Option

Most Appropriate for Organizations With

Relative Costs

Require contractors to have their own process.

Project work where client has a small presence and contractor operates with a great deal of autonomy in jobs with moderate to high potential risks, such as oil drilling

Mostly indirect

Involve contractor in planning and steering committee

Ongoing involvement of the same contractor and contract employees in client’s operations on jobs with moderate to high risk, and when the nature of their work suggest their own checklist(s), such as contract maintenance group in a plant

Highest

Involve contractor employees in conducting observations

Long-term involvement of the same contractor and contract employees or relatively long projects in jobs with moderate to high risk, such as construction projects or marine fabrication yards. Observer training typically included in orientation process.

Moderate
(training time)

Observe as other employees

Occasional contractors, low to moderate risk tasks

Lowest

Observer as other employees, but treat differently

Service contracts that dictate the nature of interactions. For example, concerns might be voiced to supervision.

Lowest


In the last couple of years, we have been pleased to see the emphasis that many companies are putting on the safety of their contract employees, even to the point of involving them in the process design and conducting behavioral observations. With behavior-based safety, one size does not fit all, but balancing the focus on process and outcomes, and partnering with contractors to ensure the meaningful involvement of employees, are all significant contributions to eliminating injuries in the workplaceOrganizations that rely heavily on contract employees and want to minimize the risk of injury in relatively high risk environments should generally include contract employees in conducting observations. This can typically be accomplished by including observer training in the new employee orientation process. Observer training during orientation should include a brief explanation of the process, how the checklist was created and, most importantly, practice on conducting observations and feedback. As adult learners learn by doing, simply describing the process without the opportunity for practice is simply not good training.