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Sub-contractors – avoiding the Rogue Ones

Back in the day when I was a facilities maintenance manager for mobile space station in galaxy far, far away, the ongoing routine maintenance servicing of the facility was a real headache.  Unfortunately, through no fault of mine this mobile space station had a major design fault which a group of young Jedis managed to infiltrate.  I then got the lucky break to manage and oversee the new build of the DS-2 Orbital space station.  You can imagine the number of sub-contractors that I needed for this.  Those that had to install, maintain and service the planetary shield projector on the forest moon of Endor, the endless calibration of tractor beams, and last but not least the servicing and routine maintenance of the super laser.  Don’t get me started on the painting and decorating, I use the cliché of the painting of the Forth Road Bridge, but this was just endless.

Now in outer space on a space station that can move at the speed of light, finding reliable subcontractors to do the work can be difficult.  To me the procurement of these subcontractors was important, both from a health and safety perspective and a quality perspective.  The subcontractors would not have been employees of the Galactic Empire and so they would have been unfamiliar with the Orbital Space Station.  In effect they are strangers and would not have known our safety rules or safety procedures.  In addition, they would not have known the hazards within the Orbital Space Station.  Imagine the outcry if an external builder floated off into space – this was a real possibility and so a system had to be in place for choosing the right subcontractors.

Satisfying yourself

When selecting contractors, you need to satisfy yourself that the sub-contractor you choose can actually carry out the job.  You also need to satisfy yourself that they can do it safely without putting your employees and members of the public at risk.  Therefore, it is prudent that you investigate your sub-contractor and make enquires.  You want to find out that they have the competence to do the job you are asking them to do.  We can define competence as the necessary skills, experience, knowledge, and qualifications to carry out their job.

Risk assessments and method statements

So, what do you need to take into account during the procurement of contractors?  The first discussion point is risk assessment.  Any organisation or individual should carry out a risk assessment for the activity they are undertaking.  The significant findings of a risk assessment will usually be written unless there are fewer than five employees.  However, it is prudent that those with fewer than five employees continue to have written risk assessments.  Should you ask for a risk assessment from your contractor before they carry out the work?  You may feel more at ease seeing a risk assessment from a contractor but ask yourself why you are requesting it and what are you going to do with it.  You are more than likely using a contractor because you do not have the necessary skills, knowledge, qualifications, or experience to do the work activity yourself.  So, with this in mind are you the best person to review that risk assessment and deem it to be suitable and sufficient?

After risk assessment we move onto method statements.  A method statement details how a contractor intends to the undertake a work activity and should summarise their approach to the job in hand.  Like the risk assessments I just mentioned, you may still not have the skills, experience, knowledge and qualifications to review the method statement in its entirety, but it will give a very good idea on how they plan to carry out the work.

You may consider how large a contractor’s organisation is.  A smaller company or self-employed contractor can undertake work just as safely as large multinational companies can.

ISO – Quality measures, not safety guarantees

You may see from time to time a series of letters and numbers that organisations have such as ISO9001.  These we refer to as quality management standards.  It evidences that their quality management systems have been subjected to external audit and they meet the set criteria for that quality standard.  Other familiar standards are those for environmental ISO14001 and safety management ISO45001.  However none of these standards are guarantees of safety and so please do not turn down a contractor who does not hold any.

Onto insurances next.  What ones should we be checking? It has always surprised me when people ask organisations for employer’s liability insurance.  This is insurance that protects the contractors’ employees only, so perhaps not the most important one to check.  Also, if a contractor has employees and they have no employer’s liability insurance they are committing a criminal offence.  I would always recommend you request public liability insurance.   This insurance is not a legal requirement, but it provides cover for the contractor if a member of the public or client of theirs claims because they have suffered injury or property damage as a result of the contractor’s activities.  A typical amount covered is £5,000,000 but for works where the risk is high such as where your building is worth a lot or they are carrying out higher risk activities such as welding, for example you may consider that the limit should be £10,000,000

Other checks

Other checks you may wish to carry out are to ask your colleagues or other space station owners within your portfolio on how contractors have performed.  Word of mouth reviews or recommendations can assist with this process.  Accessing the contractor’s websites for reviews or customer feedback scores may be of use.

You can also check to see if the contractor holds any accreditations.  Are they a member of a trade body or are a member of an accredited scheme?  Although this is no guarantee of safety it does indicate they have access to specific industry guidance.

You can also check the Health and Safety Executive website.  The HSE have a database that lists when organisations or individuals receive enforcement notices and list all those that have been prosecuted.  If your contractor is listed on there, then you may wish to ask them how they have improved their safety standard since the event.

So, I hope this leaves you with a few ideas as to how you can go about procuring contractors to work on your premises.  I am off now as I have just had an alert that planetary shield projector on the moon of Endor has just gone down, probably Ewoks messing around with it, but I will try to get my sub-contractor to go down and take a look.  I can’t believe I just wrote that…try.  An old wise master once said “Try not. Do or do not.  There is no try”.  So with that in mind let me re-phrase that and I will get my sub-contractor to go down and take a look.