Why Contractor Registries Aren’t Safety Programs
By Randy Gieseking, CHSP
Many owners are taking a closer look at web-based nationwide registries that provide contractor prequalification services. These registries appear to provide an affordable alternative to developing an owner’s own contractor prequalification program, leading some managers to believe that it’s an affordable way to meet their safety needs.
These registries typically charge owners a flat annual fee to access their databases of contractors. The contractors also pay fees to participate, and are asked to provide evidence of written safety programs, as well as safety-related statistics such as OSHA recordable and days away/restricted time incidents, as well as EMR and other workers compensation experience. Some registries claim to have tens of thousands of contractors in their databases. When the owner needs a particular type of contractor for a project, they can quickly identify contractors who meet their basic safety standards, and invite them to bid.
Sounds simple, right? Not necessarily. Prequalifying contractors to verify that they meet your standards for safety is an important step – but it’s just that: one step. Ensuring that your workplace will be safe takes many additional steps and ongoing on-site monitoring that databases cannot provide. After all, just because a contractor meets your pre-project evaluation doesn’t mean they’re going to perform safely on your site.
For example, when we work with an owner, prequalification is just the first step of an entire Contractor Safety Management Process that includes a variety of other steps before work actually begins. We have pre-bid discussions about safety requirements and what will be expected on the site. Once bids have been awarded, pre-planning addresses the safety aspects, so all contractors know what they’ll need to do. We back that with onsite coaching of contractors. The process also addresses every stage of project activity.
Just as important, that process is customized to the owner’s specific needs and the requirements of a project, and supported by a safety advisor who is very familiar with the program. Using a one-approach-fits-all registry might address or neglect issues that are important or unique to the owner’s site. For example, safety requirements may vary by trade, or by where the particular contractor will work.
Some owners like the concept of a nationwide database, because it gives them access to more contractors than they would normally be able to identify on their own. That’s particularly true if the owner does business at multiple locations throughout the U.S. But relying solely on a database may mean missing out on smaller, high-quality local or regional contractors that are unwilling to pay the fees to be included in the registry. In addition, it’s a safe bet that the contractors who do pay the fees adjust their bids to make up those costs.
If your organization needs to find contractors nationwide, participating in a registry may make sense for you. But before you decide to proceed, be sure to compare that approach to working with a firm that can develop a customized safety program in which prequalification is a component. Look at the benefits of each approach, and then make the choice that’s right for your company and your project.