Dealing With Contractors: Use Form to Stop Accidents & the Liability They Cause


Using contractors can be a cost-effective way to secure vital services. But it can also create huge safety problems—especially when the contractor’s personnel work at your facility. Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for your own people is tough enough. It becomes an even greater challenge when your workplace is swarming with workers who you haven’t trained and may not even know. This can be a sure-fire recipe for injuries and liability, including criminal liability under C-45.
In order to control these risks you need to ensure that you know at any given time which contractors are on your site and whether they’re meeting your safety training standards. Failure to track this critical information creates a blind spot in your safety program. But keeping track of your contractors isn’t as simple as it sounds.
The Insider has learned of an effective way to monitor the whereabouts of contractors working on your site. It involves creating a form called a Contractor Entry Notification. The form is based on the model used by Bowater Canadian Forest Products Inc., a leading newsprint manufacturer in Ontario. Here’s how to create such a form. There’s also a Model Form on page 8 that you can adapt.

Company Blamed for Subcontractor’s Injury

This true story shows what can happen when you don’t keep track of the contractors who come to your site:
A manufacturer hires a contractor to do a service shutdown at its plant. The contractor plans to house its workers in a 30-foot work trailer and hires a subcontractor to deliver it to the plant site.
The subcontractor sends an 18-year-old student with no experience or training to deliver the trailer. When he gets to the site, the driver parks the trailer near a leaky storage tank, and walks into a puddle of caustic soda mixed with melted snow. He suffers second and third degree burns on his feet and can’t work for over a year.
The plant has an active safety program. But the service contractor in this case never bothered to tell the plant’s safety manager about the subcontractor. When the driver got hurt, nobody at the plant (other than the contractor) knew who he was or what he was doing there. So there wasn’t much the plant could do to protect him.
Even so, the plant had to pay the driver’s workers’ compensation claim costs. And had the accident happened in the current enforcement environment, the Ministry of Labour would have charged both the plant and the contractor with OHS violations.

3 Reasons to Track Contractors

There are three good reasons to keep track of the contractors who come to your site:

1. Contractors Are at Risk

Contractor personnel are unfamiliar with your machinery and work processes. You don’t get to train them. They don’t know their way around your site. In short, they’re especially vulnerable to accidents and need protection.

2. Contractors Put Your Own Workers at Risk

Having a contractor’s workers on your site can compromise your safety program and put your own workers at risk. For example, contract workers who aren’t familiar with your safety systems may inadvertently shut off or disable key controls, or start up processes or equipment. Workers unfamiliar with your workplace or process may accidentally cause a leak or spill or even start a fire or explosion. Since you don’t hire them, you don’t know if they’re properly trained and safety conscious. And as if all this wasn’t bad enough, as shown in the story above, contractors may bring their own subcontractors into your workplace without your knowledge.

3. Contractors’ Workers May Be Your Responsibility

You don’t pay the contractor’s workers; you don’t file their workers’ comp claims. But while they’re on your site, you may be legally responsible for protecting them:
OHS Laws: Provincial OHS laws require “employers” to protect the health and safety of their workers (or “employees,” depending on the terminology of that province’s law). In Ontario, courts interpret the term “employer” broadly to mean not just the workers on its payroll but the workers of contractors and subcontractors who come to the employer’s workplace and perform work on its behalf.
This so-called Wyssen doctrine, named after the case that first pronounced it (R v. Wyssen, (1992) 10 O.R. (3d) 193), applies in B.C. and, arguably, other provinces, especially Alberta, Manitoba, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, PEI, Quebec and Yukon.
But even in provinces that define “employer” and “employee” more narrowly, the OHS laws include specific duties requiring protection for the contractor’s workers. For example, the Northwest Territories says that employers must “maintain their establishment” so as not to endanger the health and safety of persons in that establishment. (See “Know the Laws of Your Province” on page 7, to find the potential source of an employer’s duty under your own OHS laws.)
The Bottom Line: No matter what province you’re in, you could have not just a moral but legal duty to protect the health and safety of a contractor’s workers.
C-45. A contractor’s worker working on your site would also qualify as persons entitled to protection under C-45.

How to Create Form

There are many measures companies can take to address the safety problems created by having a contractor or subcontractor’s workers on site–from orientation to contractor safety audits. But the most basic measure–especially for larger companies–is to know at any given time which contractors are at your site and what kind of work they’re doing. The Bowater Outside Contractor Notification Form is the best tool the Insider has seen for this purpose. “We’ve been using some variation of this form for more than 10 years and perfecting it as we go,” notes Patrick Miller, Bowater’s safety director. Even so, the form is simple and straightforward. It’s a one-page checklist of key information about each contractor the company is working with.

How To Use Form

Miller recommends designating one person, like your safety manager, to make sure all contractors meet the company’s safety requirements before beginning work at the site. The supervisor responsible for a particular contractor should fill out the form before work begins verifying that all requirements have been met. That supervisor should send a copy of the completed form to senior managers, purchasing and the departments where work is to be done, advises Miller. Keep the form in a central location where key personnel at your site can get access to it. Bowater started out using a paper form but is currently converting it to an electronic version that can be accessed from a PC.

Pat Miller, CRSP: Superintendent, Health & Safety, Bowater Canadian Forest Products, 2001 Neebing Ave., Thunder Bay, ON P7E 6S3.