Inhouse health and safety “pre-qual” can be a good option for some

Many people consider health and safety pre-qualification (or “pre-qual” as it is invariably known) a vital step in the process of selecting, engaging and managing contractors, but there’s been quite a lot of talk of late about the best way to do it.

Let’s start with the why. There is a requirement for every PCBU (person conducting a business) to ensure, as far as reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and of other workers whose activities they influence or direct. That is a given.

An important part of getting this right is for a principal contractor to pre-qualify contractors to ensure they are meeting their legal requirements and are on the same page in terms of the law and the principal contractor’s expectations.

This reduces risk to the principal contractors, ensures they are addressing their own due diligence considerations and allows them to compare apples with apples during the tendering process. And ideally it happens pre-tender, allowing them to factor in the true “cost” of each contender before they decide.

As with so many things in business these days, it’s not a straightforward process, however.

For many people the simple option is to call in a specialist external provider who can provide an assessment of a contractor’s health and safety approach and record against current legislation and best practice.

There are obvious advantages to this approach and for some people it is no doubt the best option. The good firms have qualified people who can provide reputable third party verification and ensure that all assessments are against current legislation and standards.

This helps you, as the principal PCBU, to address your due diligence duty, and may provide your contractors with a transferable verification, meaning they do not have to repeat the process for other PCBUs.

There is a downside, however. External providers are not cheap, it can be difficult to keep across what is going on when things are largely out of your hands and, most importantly, the process can be at a level far and above what is required, meaning some people struggle to meet the minimum standard.

That’s why there is increasing interest in carrying out pre-qualification in house using a contractor assessment tool. You need to do your homework before you buy, but the good modern tools are very good.

Of course, that means you need to have a person in your team with the knowledge, ability and interest to assess contractor submissions, which means you need to be doing enough of this to make it worthwhile. It also means you aren’t providing contractors with a transferable “clearance” – but then that’s not your primary aim.

The three big advantages of setting up your own process are that it inexpensive, it is relatively simple once you have your systems in place, and it allows you to set the minimum standard for competency for your business.

And that is the key. This is not just about ticking boxes. It is about finding the right way for your business to assess its contractor’s health and safety that is simple, effective and stands up to rigorous scrutiny.