Outsourcing Health and Safety
How Can We Solve Skills Shortages In Construction?
Low unemployment figures.
Most of us would agree that this is a good thing, right?
Politicians love to boast about how “long-term unemployment figures are at an all-time low.”
And take the credit for this, of course!
But this comes at a cost to those of us in front-line construction.
This is because there is a serious shortage of skilled Health and Safety personnel in construction.
The shortage also explains why more contractors are outsourcing Health and Safety to trusted third parties.
There are also cost implications.
For example, how would you feel about being forced to pay someone £30,000 extra just to stay in their job?
Surely that’s just fantasy?
Not according to a leading recruiter in the construction field. Just look at this.
“Skilled health and safety professionals were in massive demand which drove up salaries by 10-15% (that’s before the current inflation crisis), with some skills being in such demand that some candidates were being offered a £30,000 salary increase to stay in position.”
(Source IOSH Magazine)
And it’s not just skilled H&S staff.
Qualified tradespeople from carpenters to bricklayers are also in short supply.
They can now enjoy “playing the market” as itinerant workers and sell their services to the highest bidder.
Great for them – but not so great for those of us who own and operate construction businesses.
But the lack of qualified H&S specialists is a particular headache, so let’s look at some problems this causes…… and possible solutions.
Just How Bad Is The H&S Shortage?
The short answer is that the situation is dire at the moment.
“There is a severe shortage of IOSH professionals versus current demand, with the number of health and safety opportunities increasing by 58% in the first half of 2022 but applications decreasing by almost 75%,”
A shortage of workers (to DO the work) is one thing – but not being able to do work SAFELY is a different matter entirely.
The Consequences Of Shortages In H&S Specialists For Us In Construction.
Now we have a shortage that affects the legal duties of employers and a danger of them becoming non – complaint with serious consequences.
Fact – Employers have a legal obligation to their employees.
- Employers and those in control of premises have a legal obligation to ensure their workers possess the skills, knowledge, and experience to carry out their work safely.
- They must not allow unqualified individuals to take on tasks beyond their level of competency, unless under appropriate supervision. Likewise, workers themselves have a duty to refuse tasks that exceed their level of competence.
Notice the key phrases above – the emphasis on skills, knowledge, competency, and supervision.
This is difficult enough to ensure at the best of times, but it is even more difficult by not having enough qualified people to supervise to start with.
This accounts for many companies choosing to outsource their H&S rather than trying to do this in-house.
Also, workers are selling their services to the highest bidder.
They can turn up on multiple sites with different contractors …….. With different standards & practices in H&S.
This can make it very difficult to maintain optimal H&S standards on-site where there is a constant influx of “newcomers” through the gates.
“Toolbox talks” alone won’t cut it.
Neither will “sweat the resource” and asking someone to fulfill an H&S role who does not possess the skills and experience.
Meeting statutory duties and compliance is mandatory –——– There is no luxury of opting in or out.
So What’s The Solution?
The obvious solution (particularly for smaller companies but increasingly larger primary contractors) is to hand off H&S systems to defined specialists.
People who are experts in H&S and live and breathe it day in and day out.
Specialist consultants who have the time, resources, and experience to manage all aspects of H&S.
- Monitor rules & regulations and know best practice.
- Are knowledgeable in all aspects of the construction industry.
- Visit construction sites daily and understand the practical challenges of running safe sites and the “time is money” conundrum.
- Can offer practical teaching onsite to improve standards – showing the “why” as well as the “how.”
- Show how H&S & efficiency on site and hitting deadlines are not mutually exclusive.
So why don’t more companies outsource Health and Safety?
Most of us in the construction supply chain have a natural tendency to “keep things in-house” as much as possible.
Risk management for a start.
The perceived risks usually come under the following headings (or variations of them)
- We lose control.
- We have to trust a third party.
- We cease to do it “our way.”
- Anticipated costs.
In reality, with the right partner, these risks can be mitigated or even eradicated entirely.
Choosing the right partner is, of course, crucial, but a suitable partner would work with you on:
- Establishing any “control” issues at the outset – who does what and when and who takes responsibility in different circumstances.
- Tell you the businesses they currently work with and allow you to contact them & have suitable testimonials from the businesses they share the front lines with ……. daily.
- Get to know your company, your people, and your operations. They would take time to know your projects, your markets, and your H&S strengths & weaknesses and work with you to address them.
- Come to your sites & offices and give specific presentations to your staff.
- They can often spread costs throughout the year and you will have a suite of “call-off” services to suit your business and operations. For example, a small scaffolding company would have different needs than a larger primary contractor. Cost is actually the wrong word. The actual cost to companies is:
- Failing site inspections
- Delays in completing projects ( the time & money issue)
- Work on stop – but paying for plant & hire machinery
- Ultimately, a catastrophic accident and court fines or custodial sentences & liquidation.
Investment is a better term than cost – professional standards in H&S and compliance increase profits not decrease them and can enhance your tender applications.
So What Are The Benefits Of Outsourcing Health and Safety?
- Navigating Health & Safety in the workplace is a specialist area that requires specialist skills. Outsourcing to experts makes sense.
- By outsourcing your H&S, you get the benefit of a qualified expert without the unnecessary expense of an in-house H&S team.
- Cost control – you only pay for what you need and can negotiate a flexible arrangement to suit your operations.
- This also means that you don’t have to cross-train existing staff, which takes up time and resources.
Also, as we have already seen, spending time & money on getting staff trained in H&S could well see them leave for better pay once they gain their qualifications.
Demand will outstrip supply both for skilled labour and H&S specialists for the UK construction industry for some time yet.
So maybe it’s time for businesses to rethink their strategy for outsourcing – at least until the situation changes.