The ‘Adopt a Contractor’ approach

The “Adopt a Contractor” approach

Most large businesses use contractor companies to undertake work on site on their behalf, but ensuring the contractors achieve the required safety standards can be challenging. Here’s how you can make it easier.

There are a number of reasons why contractor companies are used. These include rendering services that are not an organisation’s core business, or are non-routine professional services that can be high risk in nature; for example, large maintenance activities, scaffold erection, or erection of machinery.

In many cases, it is a challenge to ensure the contractor companies achieve the required safety standards, as their safety performance (or incident rates) are often not as good as those of internal employees. This is of concern to companies that continually strive for “zero harm” and prevention of incidents and injuries on their premises.

For these companies, an important point of departure is the belief that all incidents can be prevented. As such, companies invest significant time and effort in developing and entrenching the desired safety culture.

For companies to achieve equally good safety performance among employees and contractors, they need to ensure that the contractors are aligned to the safety culture of the organisation.

This can be challenging, since most contractors conduct work for several companies; each with its own set of (sometimes conflicting) safety standards and performance expectations. It is important that companies assist and guide contractors to understand and adhere to their specific safety procedures and requirements.

The reality is, however, that, despite all efforts to explain the safety rules, procedures and requirements, there is often still a misalignment in terms of safety culture and performance by contractor companies. How can this be changed to ensure better understanding and alignment?

My proposal is that companies consider the “adopt a contractor” approach, whereby all senior managers and engineers are assigned to at least one contractor company – and are thus responsible for working closely with them.

These managers and senior engineers would then be required to guide their respective contractor company (or companies) to achieve an understanding of the organisation’s various site-specific requirements, rules and methodologies. In effect, they become the safety health and environment (SHE) contact person for those contractors on site.

To ensure equal levels of competence and expertise (among coaches and contractors), the company’s SHE department should provide each manager and senior engineer with the necessary tools and training on how to coach the contractor companies.

These tools would typically include: instruction materials, brochures, training presentations, examples of risk assessments, safe operating procedures, work method statements, and so on.

A detailed plan should also be developed to reflect when the coaching sessions are to be conducted.

When working towards strengthening a safety culture and performance, it is important that contractor companies are regarded as partners. This commitment to working together will go a long way in ensuring buy-in and the understanding of the safety processes. This, in turn, will benefit all parties, and, ultimately, contribute to preventing work-related injuries and incidents on site.


Brian Darlington is the group head of safety and health for the Mondi Group, based in Vienna, Austria. He has filled the role since 2012 and is responsible for safety and health in more than 30 countries. Brian started working at Iscor before joining Mondi in 1987, working in Gauteng. In 2000 he transferred to the Kraft Division in Richards Bay. During 2005, Brian transferred to Europe, taking up the position of business unit SHE manager, responsible for SHE in paper mills in Austria, Hungary, Israel, Slovakia, Poland, South Africa and Russia, as well as forests operations in South Africa and Russia.

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Malc Staves, corporate health and safety director of L'Oréal, is passionate about improving safety.
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