MRO Magazine

Contractor safety systems

Every year families in Canada are changed by workplace tragedy. Worker fatalities and serious injury, both contractor and company employees, remain high even with though focus on safety is viewed as the most important program for any company.

July 12, 2023 | By Peter Phillips

Photo: © whyframeshot / Adobe Stock

Photo: © whyframeshot / Adobe Stock

Association of Workers’ Compensation Boards of Canada (AWCBC) reports an average of 945 workers have died each year from work-related reasons since 2009. In Nova Scotia, there were 24 deaths in 2022, 20 in 2021 and 32 in 2020. These AWCBC statistics do not single out contractor fatalities. While statistics about contractor safety aren’t readily available in Canada, experts say as a group, contractors are disproportionately likely to be hurt or killed on the job.

Companies are seeking to improve safety records after a high-profile string of workplace deaths in Canada. Contractor work force safety is one of the biggest challenges for companies when it comes to workplace safety.
Although a separation between contractor and company employee death and serious injury is not easily available, companies that have contractors working at their facility are just as responsible for their safety as the contractor employer.

Safety on the job site is a joint responsibility of both the facility owner and the contractor. Some provincial legislation dictate that the facility owner is responsible for the contractor employee’s safety while they are working on their worksite, and when injury claims go through litigation, the role of who is responsible for workplace safety generally resides with the group or person in most control of the work environment. This responsibility often lies with the facility ownership.

According to safety publications there has been a significant increase in contractor fatalities and serious injury in recent years. The question is why is this happening and what can be done about it?


Incident investigation, as it searches for the root causes of a death or injury, must look at the systems in place or not in place that failed and caused the incident to take place. An important statistic shows that 80 to 90 per cent of serious injuries and deaths are caused by human error. We think of human error as what the person did to cause the incident, and if they hadn’t done the unsafe act the incident would not have occurred. Human error; however, should also include other systems within an organization that may have failed to protect the worker and caused the incident. Remember that contractor and facility systems are developed, implemented, and enforced by people, thus the human error link. There are multiple systems that play an important part in workplace safety.

Employee training system
Safety training is one of the first things given to any employee. When it comes to safety training there is more to it than one and done. Questions about training should include:

• Is the employee training up-to-date, many safety certification courses have an expiry date, and the person must take a refresher course to maintain a valid certificate. Are companies hiring contractors reviewing the training records of the people coming to their site to work?

• Are the safety courses generic or are they specific to the work site? When a contractor comes on-site are they educated about the specific hazards they may face while performing their work? Most companies hiring a contractor provide the workers with a safety orientation program that covers worksite hazards. Depending on the job the contractor will perform, they may need specific training on job procedures and safety risks in and around the equipment or structure where the work will take place.

Risk identification system
Risks and hazards that are present or could become present as the work is performed need to be identified before the work commences. A risk/hazard analysis should always be done regardless of the size of the job. The analysis may take a few minutes or several hours depending on the complexity of the tasks. Contractors need to be fully informed and educated on the hazards they may encounter and how to mitigate them and work safely.

PPE system
Although employee training and a risk analysis will identify the PPE that well be needed, the condition of the PPE is a critical component and often overlooked. PPE needs to have an inspection program in place where safety equipment is inspected by a trained person to ensure the equipment is in good repair. Workers need to be trained to know when to take a piece of PPE out of service and when they do not comply with the safety standards.

Facility maintenance system
A poorly maintained facility or equipment can contribute to contractor injuries. A contract employee would not necessarily know how a company maintains their facility and equipment. Deficiencies in the building and asset maintenance system can cause injury and fatalities due to unexpected safety hazards encountered by the contractor. For example, does the owner of the facility have a robust lock and tag program and are lock and tag procedures tested on a regular basis. A faulty lockout procedure can cause contractors to inadvertently work on equipment that does not have zero state energy.

Due diligence system
Workers need to be supervised and given support to work safely. Supervisors often have many other duties and as a result their time is stretched very thin. They often do not supervise contractor adequately. There are many instances where workers have worked outside of safety perimeters to get a job completed. Had proper supervision been in place many of these incidents would not have occurred. If an incident does occur, one of the many things an investigation team will review is the supervision given to the people involved in the incident. Companies and supervisors must prove their due diligence to authorities.

Safety support system
Contractor companies, depending on the number of employees, will have their own safety coordinator. They manage the safety programs of their company. It should not be solely a desk job, but should take on a hands-on approach, and visit the job sites where their people are working. They should evaluate the work being performed and that their employees are following all safety rules. The safety coordinators’ presence on the work site, while the work is in progress, will show their commitment and support of their safety programs.

Companies that hire contractors will want the training certifications of people that will be on their site. The same should apply for the contractors asking about the company’s safety systems like the lock and tag program. The goal is to understand the environment their employees are stepping into and if that workplace has good safety systems in place.

Communication and reporting system
It is also important that company employees are aware of the contractors on-site, where they are working, and the nature of the work they are performing.

A best practice is to have a contractor work location board. This is a simple drawing of the facility with magnetic markers that show the contractor’s work location.

Communicating with all employees and contractors is important. Sometimes, work overlaps between company and contractor employees and it’s important everyone knows what’s going on.

At the end of the job, it is also imperative the job is inspected to ensure all the safeties are back in place, and equipment is commissioned and working properly before it goes back into service.

Many companies use checklists that are reviewed by company officials and the contractor to make sure the work has been completed and it is safe to release the equipment into operation.

Contract employees need to have a procedure to follow to report safety issues, and they need feedback on previously submitted safety concerns. They need to know the steps to take when an incident occurs whether it’s a near miss or injury. They need to know who to contact and who to call in case of an emergency.
Peter Phillips is the owner of Trailwalk Holdings Ltd., a Nova Scotia-based maintenance consulting and training company. Peter has over 40 years of industrial maintenance experience. He travels throughout North America working with maintenance departments and speaking at conferences. Reach him at 902-798-3601 or


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