I work with a range of clients across the property sector to introduce realistic and practical arrangements for all aspects of safety, health and environment.
Undoubtedly, in the residential lettings sector contractor management is one of the hardest areas to implement said arrangements, especially for organisations working with smaller landlords.
The law states - as part of Section 3 of Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 - that it: Shall be the duty of every employer to conduct their undertaking to ensure that persons not in their employment are not exposed to risk.
Additional requirements are contained within the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM), with information on the responsibilities of clients, engaging the services of contractors, principal (main) contractors, contractors, designers and workers.
It is actually from the inception of these regulations in 1994 that guidance and arrangements for managing the work of contractors and warning them of known hazards has been refined.
The main problem for businesses is that is has always been the perception that if the services of a contractor are procured, it is their responsibility to work safely as the expert. What's more, because a contractor is not an employee, less is required when in actual fact a different approach is necessary.
Small and medium sized letting companies may rely on landlords directly to agree costs for maintenance and repair. If there is a conflict between safety and price, there is pressure to accept the cheapest quote which may involve working in an unsafe manner.
Traditionally, there are fewer requirements and less HSE enforcement of contractors working in the residential sector. However, this is likely to change in the future with domestic work being included within the new CDM requirements expected in early 2015 to align the UK with the mobile sites directive which expects domestic clients be included.
Similarly, the Control of Asbestos Regulations 2012 applies to non-domestic clients and property. This is often translated that anyone engaging the services of a contractor for work within a residential dwelling does not apply. This is not the case. Section 3 of Health & Safety at Work Act applies to anyone commissioning maintenance and/or repair as part of their business, and the duty to manage asbestos is relevant in respect of common parts. In the residential lettings sector, confusion can therefore occur.
Anyone involved in residential lettings should therefore have a process in place for managing their contractors safely. The first stage of this process is to ensure responsibilities are clearly understood. Where letting agents are responsible for maintenance and repair, they will also be responsible for ensuring legal requirements are met.
The tenancy or lease agreement must clearly outline which aspects the tenant is responsible for, and which the letting agent or landlord will undertake. Similarly, the management agreement with the landlord should clearly outline how responsibilities for managing safety, when engaging the services of contractors, will be met.
Anyone hiring or organising the work of contractors must have a process in place for ensuring they are competent. However, this may not be a straight-forward task because it relies upon a certain amount of expertise to understand whether the qualifications held by a contractor are current, or even relevant.
How do you verify that a builder is competent or that a window cleaner has safe arrangements in place to work at height safely If a contractor has been working for a long period of time without incident, this is not necessarily a measure of competency.
The safety schemes in procurement scheme (SSiP) provides advice on this. It aims to assist both clients and contractors by listing registered members who run schemes which will assess the competency of small, medium and large contractors. In most cases, this is at little or no cost to the agent and a nominal cost to contractors (depending on their size).
The benefit of agents registering as clients with one of these schemes is they can track contractor progress in respect of compliance online, and most schemes flag, for example, if contractor's insurance is out of date.
It can be difficult for agents who have been using small local contractors to make this change, but if these contractors cannot meet the expected standard within a reasonable timescale, difficult decisions may have to be made - especially if they are undertaking high risk work.
Contractor safety management should be a two way communication. The letting agent will set the standards they expect, so providing site rules as part of contractor engagement is a good idea. These can include general standards of conduct as well as Health & Safety.
The letting agent should also be prepared to provide information on hazards of which they are aware. This should definitely include any information on asbestos where surveys are available. For work within homes that may not have been subject to a survey, an approximate age of the property will provide a contractor with an indication of whether they should alter the manner in which they work.
In return, the contractor should provide information on how they will conduct their work safely. Once risk assessments have been provided, there must be a process of discussion on safe working practices. Some work will be more expensive to undertake safely, for example, the use of ladders to clean windows or clear gutters several stories high should be avoided in favour of reach and wash systems.
Moreover, work beside unprotected roof edges or fragile materials will also require additional controls which may make the work more expensive. By insisting on an unsafe working practice, the agent may be placing themselves into a position of culpability in the event of an incident occurring.
Regular meetings arranged with frequently used contractors should include discussions on safety and the agent's expectations of in respect of safety standards.
Agents should also undertake an occasional spot check to verify contractors are working safely, and in the manner which has been previously agreed. This does not have to be onerous, and could simply include verification that the contractor is using the equipment or personal protective equipment and that they are working in a tidy and professional manner.
Next week I will be discussing managing work on site and high risk work.
*Louise Hosking MCIEH CMIOSH RMaPS AIEMA SIIRSM is a Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner and Director at Hosking Associates Ltd