Work undertaken by a contractor is usually covered by a separate contract for services. It is good practice for provisions concerning health and safety arrangements and responsibilities to be included within the contract. However, duties under health and safety legislation cannot be delegated from one party to another by contract. Therefore, any contractual provisions that seek to absolve a party of any responsibility will be void; the key message to remember is that both parties will have responsibilities under health and safety law.

An employer who engages contractors will be expected to have identified all aspects of the work required of the contractor, and all associated risks. The employer should therefore have a health and safety policy in place, together with relevant risk assessments and safe working procedures. Measures should also be taken to regularly review and audit the contractor’s performance to ensure that the contractor’s work – which forms part of the employer’s undertaking – is being conducted in a way that is legally compliant.

Employers should undertake specific checks of the contractors it engages to ensure they are properly licensed, competent and qualified to undertake work on behalf of the employer. This would entail determining matters such as:

• experience in the type of work concerned;
• qualifications and skills;
• the health and safety training and supervision it provides;
• recent health and safety performance;
• health and safety policies and procedures; and
• its arrangements for consulting its workforce.

The above principles will also apply where sub-contractors are used; the employer must therefore satisfy himself that the contractor has an effective procedure for monitoring and auditing the competence of sub-contractors, and that there are also systems in place for the proper supply of information, instruction and training to the sub-contractor.