The Most Effective Way to Verify Contractor Compliance

Your company has a healthy safety culture with excellent buy-in from your leadership team. Your prequalification program does a great job of screening prospective contractors to make sure they meet all your safety standards. Now how do you make sure that the safety-related activities that are supposed to happen on your jobsite actually do, and that the contractors’ crews operate in ways that doesn’t put your safety record and reputation at risk?

Fortunately, you don’t have to leave things up to chance. There are several very simple steps you can take to monitor contractor compliance and verify that all operations at your site are following proper safety protocols. In this article, we’ll share some of the strategies we use regularly.

Walk around. You could ask contractors to complete 100 forms a week to verify that they’re complying with your safety program, but reviewing paperwork is nowhere near as effective as being out on the jobsite with them. Visibility is one of the most important tools for verifying contractor compliance. It makes a safety professional far more effective than simply shuffling papers behind a desk.

There are generally two ways to walk around a site. One is the scheduled walk-through with a supervisor to perform general observations. But the more effective type is the impromptu stroll through the site (by yourself) to see what’s happening and initiate conversations with workers. Those one-on-one conversations can provide a sense of how seriously the safety rules are being taken, and whether workers consider safety to be something important.

Dig gently. When talking with workers, you can get insight without acting like an interrogator. Suppose your interest is in learning more about the adequacy of workers’ training. In the course of conversation about the task they’re doing, slip in a quick question about what they thought of the training they received. That may open a line of conversation from which you’ll be able to develop great insight about whether the worker has received the right kind of training.

Having those friendly, nonthreatening conversations allows the workers to develop confidence and trust in you. That’s important, because it will make them far more willing to walk up to you and raise a safety-related concern about the site. Most important, it shows you care.

Watch reactions. Human nature can send powerful messages. For example, pay attention to the way workers and supervisors on the worksite react as you come walking up. While it’s common for workers to stop what they’re doing as a safety professional approaches (because they believe they may be doing something wrong), you’re really watching for more evasive moves.

When observing workers in this manner, it’s a good idea to record what you see in your mind and not transfer it to paper until you’re out of sight. If workers feel that they’re being watched and they know their actions are being recorded, they may change their behavior in an effort to fool you. But if you can observe them without them being aware, you’ll see how they really work. After all, that’s your goal.

Audit program elements. On a regular basis (but not in a predictable way), audit specific elements of the safety program. For example, you might choose to audit training one day, so you’d pull contractors from different firms and see if they have the correct training for the scope of work they’re currently handling. On another day, you may target fall protection. By varying what you audit, you’ll be able to develop a comprehensive sense of safety on the jobsite.

Mix it up. Don’t fall into the trap of performing the same kind of verification on the same days, week after week. It’s more effective to use a variety of techniques at different times. Not only does that make it more difficult for workers to try to “outsmart” the safety professional; it also ensures that you’ll examine the jobsite and activities in different ways, so you may notice something you would have otherwise missed.

Finally, be sure that you don’t fall into the role of “safety cop,” roaming the site looking for violations. If you develop that kind of reputation, workers are not going to work cooperatively with you or share valuable information. Instead, they’ll tell you what they think you want to hear and ignore your counsel as soon as you move on. It’s much more enjoyable — and productive — to work with people as opposed to working against them.

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