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Facilities Management - Leading Contractor Safety Performance – Four Practical Tips

Jess Freeman • 22/06/2022


Thankfully, I can count on one hand the number of times that I have had to deal with a serious accident involving a contractor or sub-contractor which occurred at a property under my responsibility. These incidents are etched into my mind like scars. They fade over time but will never completely go away, which is why I felt compelled to share four practical tips that should help other facilities managers prevent similar occurrences in the future. 

Very early in my career I was fortunate enough to be exposed to some very experienced leaders in health and safety. The key cultural behaviours I learned from included the prioritisation of individual safety. A single accident was one too many. You can also never be too focussed on safety; and it should never be sacrificed for the sake of performance. These mantras continue to serve me well to this day in my career as a facilities manager. 

We are all aware – or should be aware – of our obligations to ensure the occupational health, safety, and wellbeing of those who visit, use, and maintain the properties under our care. Contractor safety is a fact of life for facilities management, whether the works are being delivered by those who are directly employed by your organisation, contracted out or sub-contracted out. An important aspect of contractor management is that the more layers of sub-contracting that are involved in the delivery of works, the more control is reduced and concurrently the amount of risk increases. This leads me to my first tip:

1. Have Robust Contracts in Place with your Contractors

Ensuring that an agreement, in writing is in place with contractors delivering works at the properties that you manage is fundamental. These agreements ensure that both parties (the facilities manager and the contractor) know their obligations. Whilst these agreements are normally drafted by a lawyer or legal team, facilities managers should know the key terms from the agreement. This includes the expectations that are on the contractor from a safety perspective, how their performance will be measured (see more below) and what scope of work they are responsible for delivering. If you have contractors performing work at your properties and you do not have an agreement; or are not sure what is in the agreement, you should make it a priority to establish one or find out the contents of the agreement on foot. 

Another important consideration within contractual agreements with facilities management contractors is the principle of sub-contracting and how far this arrangement can (or cannot) extend. As I have mentioned already, the more a service is sub-contracted, the greater the loss of control the facilities manager has over the delivery of that service. Hence the importance of the next tip. 

2. Never Exceed one level of Sub-Contracting 

Sub-Contracting is extremely advantageous, as it helps to reduce the number of contractors and agreements the facilities manager needs to directly manage, especially when the properties are geographically dispersed, or high in number. By sub-contracting, the principal contractor (which has the agreement with the facilities manager), takes on the accountability for the services delivered by those contractors. The expectations and requirements laid out in the agreement the principal contractor has with the facilities manager should match those in any agreements put in place with the sub-contractor. An important point to bear in mind is that you cannot contract out of your duty of care and you cannot totally transfer your obligations from a risk management perspective by employing a contractor – you will always have some skin in the game. 

It may appear to be common sense; however, it may surprise you that multiple levels of sub-contracting can and does occur throughout the facilities management industry. Therefore, it is important to consider the next two tips closely, so those working in your properties are as safe as possible, whilst maintaining a high level of operational performance. 

3. Prioritise Safety in your Way of Working

A great way to instil the importance and priority of safety with your contractors is to talk about it as the first agenda item at every meeting. You could implement a “safety moment” as the first agenda item – inviting attendees to share an example of where they have seen positive and or negative safety cultural behaviours. If this is difficult or challenging, ask open ended questions to prompt discussion. What behaviours or practices are focusses for them during the next month? How do they consistently deliver this message to their directly employed and sub-contractor workforce? Discussing safety from a behavioural perspective personifies the subject and tends to make it more relatable to the attendees. 

In addition to ongoing meetings with contractors, site visits, inspections and audits provide important touch points for facilities managers to both view and lead positive safety behaviours. Walking the floors of the buildings that you maintain (or requiring your facilities management team to do the same) is extremely important. Make sure that you seek out any people performing work within the premises. Engage them in conversation. Question behaviours that you are not certain of or need to know more about. Is the work area clean and tidy? Are tools left strewn around the area or are they organised and packed away when not in use? Remember that the standard you walk past, is the standard that you accept. 

Whilst the discussion of safety culture is beneficial (as a lead indicator or instigator of performance), it is also important to have visibility of and to discuss safety data and key performance indicator results (as a lag indicator) – which segues nicely into my fourth and final tip. 

4. Establish, Monitor and Respond to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)

As foreshadowed above, a blend of lead and lag KPIs will assist in the holistic management and leadership of safety performance across your contractor base. Leading indicators help to look ahead, whereas lagging indicators look towards the past. Some examples of these in a safety performance context are in the graphic below. 

safety incident occurs

Implementing and asking your contractors to monitor these indicators will give the facilities manager a great overview of how safety is being implemented and led by the contractor. Ensuring that the indicators include data for sub-contractors is critical. In practice, what you should see is an ongoing improvement against the leading indicator set, whilst also seeing a decreasing result across the lagging indicator set. 

If this correlation is not seen, that could indicate that the proactive measures taken to ensure the safety of workers is not getting through or being implemented correctly. It would be prudent in that situation to ask the contractor for an action plan around how they will address the lagging indicator results. 

In Conclusion

Remember – facilities managers play a critical role in leading a positive safety culture. We have a duty of care to everyone that visit and use the buildings we look after. Start by understanding your written agreement – making sure that it only allows one level of sub-contracting. Prioritise safety conversations in your meetings and incidental interactions with your contractors. Ensure that you instil consistent, measurable, and clear expectations for your contactors. Couple these with lead and lag measures which are discussed and tracked, and you can feel confident that you are contributing towards the safety of your contractors and sub-contractors. 

One less incident is one family that is not impacted. It is also one less scar you will need to wear for life. 

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