Working with contractors

Last reviewed on 24/06/2015 16:46

This page gives advice on the health and safety issues employers must consider when working with contractors.

You will also find advice on how to select contractors, details of legal duties and obligations, and links to further information.

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What are contractors and sub-contractors?

A contractor is anyone who is doing work for a company (client), but who is not an employee of that company. A contractor may then engage other firms to assist with elements of the contract. These firms or individuals are regarded as sub-contractors.

Companies may use contractors to help with business activities, or in maintenance, cleaning, catering and other day-to-day tasks.


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Why consider health and safety in relation to contractors?

Almost all organisations will use contractors at some time.

Contractors often work in workplaces with hazards that are unfamiliar to them. This can include exposure to chemicals, asbestos, lead, noisy or hot/cold conditions.

Employees of the contracting organisation, or its client, may be at risk from the activities of a contractor, as could members of the public.

Organisations that engage contractors and sub-contractors have a responsibility under Health and Safety Law to protect them from harm caused by company work activities.

Similarly, contractors and sub-contractors must co-operate with the client and each other to ensure they don’t do anything that puts themselves or others at risk. Members of the public should not be put at risk by the contract activities.


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Legal duties and obligations around use of contractors

The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 The main duties that apply to the use of contractors are contained in sections 2, 3 and 4 of this Act.

Employers have to ensure as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of employees, employees of other employers and members of the public.

Those who have control over premises have to consider the safety of anyone who comes on the premises, including contractors and customers.

→ Read more about The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

The Management of Health and safety at Work Regulations 1999 These regulations are of particular importance in any client/contractor relationship. They set out requirements for a health and safety management system in all workplaces. Employers have to assess risks in their workplace and take steps to control or eliminate the risks.

→ Read more on The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

Specific Hazards Clients and contractors have legal responsibilities under health and safety regulations dealing with special hazards, including:

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 These regulations came into force in April 2007 and replace earlier regulations. They place specific duties on clients, designers, and contractors to ensure health and safety is taken into account at every stage of the project.

→ View Health and Safety Executive advice on The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (external site)

To read more about the above legislation, please follow the links under Legislation.


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Selecting competent contractors

Companies need to ensure that the contractors they engage have the skills and knowledge to carry out the contract to the required standards without risks to health and safety.

In order to assess whether a contractor is competent, you can request that they provide:

  • evidence of experience in the same type of work
  • references from previous clients which are checkable
  • accident/ill health statistics
  • evidence of qualifications, skills and ongoing training
  • evidence of health and safety training
  • risk assessments and method statements for the work to be carried out
  • a statement of their criteria for selecting sub-contractors.

The selection of sub-contractors is more often left to the contractor. The same assessment criteria as above can be applied.


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Good practices in working with contractors

  • provide the project specifications and requirements to contractors before they tender to help them decide if they can do the job
  • use appropriate selection criteria to ensure competent contractors are engaged
  • assess any risks to contractors and employees prior to, and during the activity
  • inform contractors of workplace hazards, including special requirements e.g. permit to work systems or requirements for 'hot' work
  • give information on emergency procedures, site rules and welfare facilities
  • co-ordinate and control the work and ensure all parties are aware of their responsibilities
  • maintain regular communication with all parties to ensure everyone has up-to-date information
  • make company employees aware of hazards created by contract activity
  • monitor Health and Safety performance
  • investigate all injuries, near misses and cases of ill health
  • maintain records of the contract activity
  • when the contract ends, review the activity with all parties, discuss what went well and what areas could have been improved
  • decide if the contractors should go on an approved list for future contracts.


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Further information on the use of contractors

Free resources from Healthy Working Lives Links below are to publications pages giving options to download these resources:

Free guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note - all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to download or order these resources:

Priced guidance from the Health and Safety Executive Note – all links are to external pages on the HSE website giving options to order these resources:


→ View The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 (external site)


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