Increased reliance on contractors and “transient” workers in all industry sectors is posing a serious OHS challenge for organisations, according to WorkSafe WA’s manager of education and information services, Jane Ardern.
One reason contractors are an OHS challenge is because they are more susceptible to injury than full-time employees, said Ardern.
Such workers are more susceptible to injury for a number of reasons, including: the nature of the work they are contracted for may be inherently high risk; inexperience; being unfamiliar with the workplace as well as policy, practice and procedures; personal attitudes; cultural/language differences; and variable work patterns.
Ardern also noted that organisations may face difficulties in ensuring that all tiers of subcontractors have the required training, despite their contractual commitment to compliance.
“Cost considerations often come first and many small subcontractors may not have the expertise to provide complex worker health and safety programs and often don’t have enough training themselves to enforce safety,” said Ardern in a recent paper on the issue.
Published on WorkSafe WA’s SafetyLine website, the paper noted that workers who are employed sequentially by several subcontractors but “owned” by no-one may also have deficiencies in training, she added.
“Training provided as part of induction in a workplace often focuses too narrowly on current jobs rather than building broader capabilities in risk management and may also be used to compensate for equipment and machinery that may not be safe, deficiencies in management practice, or poor job design.”
Contract and other transient workers may not be as interested in safety initiatives and tend to be less involved in workplaces as they do not perceive any long term benefit, said Ardern.
“There is more likely to be limited opportunity to build relationships and establish high levels of trust between managers and workers and within teams, which may lead to a lack of communication and reduced levels of cooperation on safety initiatives,” she said.
Where there is a perception that safety culture in the workplace is weak, Arden said factors such as job insecurity have a greater effect on levels of compliance and safety knowledge amongst transient workers than where there is an obvious safety culture that is well established.
In the paper, Arden outlined several steps for developing and managing a positive safety culture for all workers.
The steps are: integrating safety and health compliance into recruitment and selection processes for contracts and temporary employment; clearly defining roles and responsibilities; providing information, instruction and training.
Other steps include: establishing cooperation, consultation and coordination as part of the working relationships; assessing the risks of the work; constant monitoring of safety and health performance and continuous improvement; and investigating all injuries.