Safe Maintenance - managing contractors

This page provides information on managing contractors.

The use of contractors within industry is commonplace. Many companies turn to contractors to supplement their own staff. They are also used for specialist tasks, often involving the most hazardous activities. This could involve maintenance, repairs, installation, construction and demolition or carrying out non-routine activities where there is a greater potential for harm if their work is not properly managed.

It is important to ensure that contractors are properly briefed on and understand the major hazard risks associated with your activities in order for them to be able to work safely and to safeguard others.

This website should help you understand what you need to do as an employer and provide you with useful guidance and advice to make the workplace a safer place.

Working together and communicating clearly helps everyone to work safely.

The checklist below will assist you to assess you or your organisations current practice with regard to working with contractors.

After you assess your current position you may find it useful to complete an action plan of what needs to be done.

Why manage contractors:

As an employer, you have a legal requirement under the Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978 to ensure the health and safety of other people at work on your site including contractors.

Accidents and ill health can be costly. You may have heard the saying, 'If you think safety is expensive, try an accident!'

Preventing an incident can save time, money and most importantly lives.  

Preventing the cost of an incident

Saves time

  • losses in production time 
  • key workers, products or equipment
  • additional time to repair equipment
  • significant time loss to investigate the accident

Saves money

  • loss of production - costs to repair damaged equipment and costs to retrain
  • recovery can take many years and sometimes involves civil law claims.  Compensation to pay; other legal penalties - some losses may be uninsured
  • insurance premiums may increase, or cover refused

Saves lives

  • the safety and health of your employees or members of the public could be affected by contractors  
  • contractors themselves are at risk

Weigh up the costs

Saying ‘It can’t happen to us’ or ‘Why should we think about all this – we’ve never had an accident with a contractor!’ is asking for trouble. You’re in danger of not doing anything until after the problem. Then it could be too late!

Who is responsible

The Health and Safety at Work (NI) Order 1978 applies to all work activities. It requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of:

  • their employees
  • other people at work on their site, including contractors
  • members of the public who may be affected by their work. (e.g. visitors, people living nearby and other members of the public)

Employers with more than five employees must have a written, up-to-date health and safety policy.

Employees and contractors have to take care not to endanger themselves, their colleagues or others affected by their work.

Bear in mind that other specific regulations may also apply such as Work at Heights, Construction Design and Management, Provision and Use of Work Equipment.


Test your knowledge of some aspects of the law by answering the questions on the accompanying Questions sheet

Why are contractors at risk?

Contractors are subject to even greater hazards and risks than staff because they are new to your business.

Research has shown common causes of accidents to contractors to include fatigue, distraction, complacency, pressure, lack of resources or the incorrect resources, lack of teamwork, communication and cooperation. 

Causes of accidents


  • consider this when scheduling the night shift work
  • plan the work to avoid excessive stress for example adequate breaks


  • considered to be responsible for approximately 15 percent of all maintenance errors


  • decide a realistic amount of time to allocate for the works completion.
  • check that maintenance personnel with a strong “can-do” attitude don’t needlessly create pressure and take chances in order to complete the job as soon as possible.

Lack of resources or the incorrect resources

  • anticipate the spares, tools and equipment needed
  • maintain a stock of regularly used items
  • check they are available before starting the job - do not continue without them

Lack of knowledge

  • the person doing the job must be competent i.e. has adequate training and experience.

Lack of awareness

  • think fully about the possible consequences of the work on other people and on other parts of the business for example the production line
  • contractors are often unfamiliar with the working environment

Peer pressure

  • an accepted poor standard of health and safety behaviour makes it difficult to change. Where this is the case, contractors should be encouraged to “just say no” until adequate improvements are made


  • do not allow your expected standards of health and safety to fall

Lack of teamwork

  • good communication is essential for good teamwork. Everyone needs to understand and agree to what the job is, how it is to be done, and who by

Lack of communication

  • worksheets and contract documents remove doubt and prevent incorrect assumptions being made

Communicate with contractors


Accidents tend to happen more easily when:

  • the contractor’s job is excluded from your usual methods of safe working
  • if the hazards of their job haven’t been identified and steps have not been taken to minimise risks
  • if no one is around to make sure the contractor follows health and safety rules on site

Accidents with contractors can be caused by poor communication – when staff don’t know there is a contractor working nearby and when contractors don’t know the dangers on site.

Include contractors

Bring contractors into your health and safety procedures. They may be strangers to your site and won’t know:

  • about the hazards on your site
  • your site rules and safety procedures
  • what to wear
  • about special equipment they need to use
  • what to do in an emergency
  • the sound of the alarm, and how and when to raise it

You may take good practice for granted in-house, but don’t assume the same applies to contractors. Even regular contractors may need reminding.

Practical steps for safe working

No matter how small the job, or how fast you need it to be completed, health and safety doesn’t start when the contractor arrives on site. You need to think about health and safety as soon as you know a job needs to be done.

Health and safety considerations at each step are summarised.

Managing contractors: five steps

Step 1: Planning

  • define the job
  • identify hazards
  • assess risks
  • eliminate and reduce the risks
  • specify health and safety conditions
  • discuss with contractor (if selected)

Step 2: Choosing a contractor

  • what safety and technical competence is needed?
  • ask questions
  • get evidence
  • go through information about the job and the site, including site rules
  • ask for a safety method statement
  • decide whether subcontracting is acceptable. If so, how will health and safety be ensured?

Step 3: Contractors working on site

  • all contractors sign in and out
  • name a site contact
  • reinforce health and safety information and site rules
  • check the job and allow work to begin

Step 4: Keeping a check

  • assess the degree of contact needed
  • how is the job going
  • is the contractor working safely and as agreed?
  • any incidents?
  • any changes in personnel?
  • are any special arrangements required?

Step 5: Reviewing the work

  • review the job and contractor
  • how effective was your planning?
  • how did the contractor perform?
  • how did the job go?
  • record the lessons

Fill-in and printout the accompanying contractors safety brief to keep a record of contractors working for you or on your site.

Contractor reference material and links


What is cleaning?

Cleaning is an essential task in all workplaces to keep buildings and equipment safe and well maintained; in addition to providing a pleasant working environment for visitors and employees.

All businesses will carry out some form of cleaning activity including:

  • scheduled routine cleaning for example floor polishing at end of the day 
  • reactive, unplanned cleaning for example mopping up a spill, removing matter from industrial equipment
  • specialist cleaning for example gutters, dismantling complex equipment, or working in dangerous conditions

These may be carried out in house or contracted to external cleaning firms or specialist contractors.

What's the problem? 

Every year there are accidents resulting from cleaning activities, many are serious and some are even fatal.

What do I need to do? 

  • look at all the cleaning activities that take place, decide what could cause risks and how
  • consider whether any of these measures are in place already
  • decide whether more needs to be done