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The formal vetting of contractors to pre-qualify them for work has been around for a while now and is a staple of the oil and gas industry. The process is intended to raise the bar to ensure a safer outcome but can be extremely frustrating for those contractors required to participate.

Where’s the value in contractor vetting?

ISNetworld, BROWZ, First Verify, PICS, and other third party vetting providers serve to ensure that your health and safety programs and practices meet client requirements.  To put it another way, if you want a client’s business, you’d better have what the client is looking for.  The formal vetting of contractors to pre-qualify them for work has been around for a while now and is a staple of the oil and gas industry.  The process is intended to raise the bar to ensure a safer outcome but can be extremely frustrating for those contractors required to participate.  How much value really comes from this process and are the clients really getting a safer contractor?

Although straightforward, earning a satisfactory score or grade from a vetting organization can be challenging to say the least.  The process begins by the client dictating the required health and safety programs based on the hazards associated with the scope of work needing to be performed.  The participating contractor then enrolls in the vetting system and begins to answer questions regarding their safety practices, provides performance data like injury rates, and then uploads safety documents for review by the vetting organization.  That’s where the fun starts.

“It can be extremely frustrating for those that don’t have a dedicated safety professional or have developed sophisticated safety programs,” says Cheryl Davis, Merjent, Inc.’s process safety management expert.  “We’ve gotten very good at working with the various vetting systems and in fact some contractors are asking us for help”.

Once the safety documents are uploaded, they are reviewed by the vetting organization against the client requirements.  Although the intent of the safety program may fully meet the client’s expectations, it may not exactly match the client’s specified language and therefore the document may be found deficient.  The process of going back and forth to correct deficiencies may take considerable time.  Where a specific hazard exposure doesn’t apply to the contractor’s work being performed, the contractor can file for an exemption from the need for a written program.  However, this process can take several weeks as the vetting provider must forward the request to the client who then has to run it through its internal review process before making a final determination.

No doubt performing your due diligence with companies you are looking to hire is an important risk management practice.  How well does it account for or eliminate risk?  “As a safety professional, I’m just as concerned about how a company executes its written practices,” says Ms. Davis.  “A written program is just words on paper.  Does the contractor do what they say they are going to do?”  This verification is where the rubber meets the road.  If a company continually fails to perform their work according to their safety commitments, it’s likely a sign of bigger issues including work quality and regulatory compliance.

Verifying essentials like insurance coverage is a must.  The quality and the degree to which a written program satisfies compliance requirements is often a leading indicator of how serious a company is about its commitment to work safely.  Although painful at times, contractor vetting at the very least returns peace of mind that the poor performers have been weeded out and injuries are less likely to occur. “It feels good to be able to assist other contractors with the vetting process,” says Ms. Davis.  “We feel your pain.”

About the Author:

Mr. Hannan is the Corporate Safety Director for Merjent, Inc., and environmental consultancy in Minneapolis, MN providing services to the oil and gas industry. Feel free to email Mr. Hannan with comments or questions at dhannan@merjent.com. Visit Merjent, Inc. at www.merjent.com.

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