Construction Safety

Why consider pre-qualifying contractors

Principals may face fines for hiring tradespeople who don't possess valid WSIB clearance
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
By Glenn Pringle

A property management company has a health and safety program in place; its employees are well-trained and aware of the hazards they face in the workplace. With an impressive safety record, the company can be proud of its commitment to safety. But what about the contractors who work for the property management company?

For starters, there are various types of insurance a contractor should provide. The two most common are WSIB clearance and commercial general liability, which must name the principal (the party hiring the contractor) on the certificates. Both types of insurance are required to protect principals when they engage a contractor. And in most provinces, including Ontario as of 2013, proof of workers’ compensation clearance is mandatory before a principal permits a contractor on the property to perform construction work.

The principal may have an existing practice of collecting a contractor’s certificate of insurance, workers’ compensation clearance certificate and accident history, but is this enough? Is it done before document expiration? Certificates can be collected at the start of a project or contract, but if they expire during the project or contract, is a renewal obtained?

These documents are important to demonstrate that the contractor has protection in place to cover any damage or injury costs, and a clean safety record, but these documents do not provide a complete picture.

Contractors must be able to demonstrate to their principal that they have a health and safety program in place and are aware of basic responsibilities as well as issues and hazards relating to the work they perform. Where there are potential hazards, they have to demonstrate not only that they are aware of the hazards, but that they are capable of taking the necessary steps to mitigate or eliminate the hazards.

Condo managers may encounter contractors who lack appropriate insurance coverage, properly licensed tradespersons and documented policies and procedures. Collecting these and related documents is essential in proving a principal’s due diligence in the event of an incident, investigation or inspection.

Health and safety legislation across Canada gives employers and work site owners duties and responsibilities not just for their own directly hired workers, but for a contractor’s workers, as well. To demonstrate due diligence (in the realm of health and safety, this means that employers shall take all reasonable precautions under the particular circumstances to prevent injuries or accidents in the workplace) when work is contracted out, the principal must meaningfully assess the contractor’s health and safety program.

A practice known as pre-qualifying contractors is increasingly recognized as an acceptable and appropriate way to confirm that contractors comply with legislation and observe best practices. The main health and safety program elements that contractors should possess in written polices, practices and procedures are as follows:

  • The contractor’s health and safety program and practices reflect knowledge of the legal requirements. The contractor to whom the work is contracted has clearly defined the health and safety duties of various parties (workers, supervisors, manager and owners).
  • The contractor must be knowledgeable of the workplace and its potential and actual hazards. The contractor conducts workplace hazard assessments, develops specific safe-work procedures and policies (if necessary) and instructs and trains employees before commencing work.
  • The contractor’s health and safety program is actually implemented. (He or she can provide training records, inspection records, hazard analysis forms, completed risk and hazard analysis, Joint Health and Safety Committee agendas and minutes, etc.)
  • The contractor’s employees have received all necessary safety training applicable to the nature of their work. This may include Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS), first aid, fall-protection training, lock out training, confined space entry training, forklift/crane training and ergonomics training.
  • The contractor’s employees hold all necessary trade certificates required by law (electricians, plumbers, HVAC mechanics, gas fitter, crane operators, steamfitters, etc.) or are holders of voluntary certifications (sprinkler and fire protection installers, painters, millwrights, masons, etc.).
  • The contractor has incident reporting and investigation procedures in place. All incidents are reported and investigated promptly; corrective action is assigned and followed through to completion.
  • The contractor has appropriate supervision in place for the number of workers and the type of work being performed.
  • A plan is in place for initial and ongoing communication and coordination of work between the principal and the contractor.
  • The contractor has equipment maintenance policies and procedures in place. All equipment used is maintained according to manufacturer’s recommendations and applicable technical standards.

If a gap is identified (something significant that is required by legislation that is not being done by the contractor) during a review of the contractor, the principal could be held responsible, whether or not he or she was personally aware of the gap.

As of 2014, contractors who are not registered with the WSIB, and who do construction work in Ontario without a valid clearance number, could face fines of up to $100,000 upon conviction. Those who hire contractors without confirming they have a valid clearance number, which means a contractor has an account in good standing with WSIB, also face serious fines and penalties.

The due diligence check of a contractor’s health and safety program not only shows that the hiring condo manager cares about safety, it also gives him or her a measure of confidence that the contractor has a health and safety program that satisfies both legal and client-specific requirements.

Some contractors will decide not to expend the extra effort to participate in the pre-qualification process. But not being duly diligent can be costly for contractors and principals alike — fines, criminal prosecution and imprisonment, damage to reputation and brand, and tragically, worker injury or deaths.

When faced with a contractor who doesn’t want to meet minimum requirements for the health and safety of themselves and others, principals should ask themselves — is it worth the risk?

Glenn Pringle is a Canadian Registered Safety Professional and the Accreditation Services Manager at ContractorCheck. For more information, contact Glenn at 1-855-640-6949 or gpringle@contractorcheck.ca.