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Contracting risk

Not everyone is equal. Audits of occupations particularly exposed to risk show big differences between contractor personnel and operator employees, with the fi rst group often worse placed.

Six operators and seven contractors were audited by the PSA last autumn to determine how they identify and follow up high-risk occupations. (Link to relevant article)

The results have helped to confirm a sense that too little is being done about the hazards facing such groups, and that this applies particularly to contractor personnel. “We now expect the industry to take these variations seriously, and develop measures which take care of everyone,” says PSA principal engineer Irene B Dahle, who headed the audits.

“Our supervision shows that major quality differentials exist in identifying and assessing risk,” she adds.

“Contractors do systematically worse in such management areas as studies, monitoring occupational ill-health, and developing and following up measures.

“It’s characteristic, for instance, that integrated systems for assessing risk are found at operators but to a lesser extent with contractors.

“We also see that operators have established methods and procedures for planning, executing and following up studies and risk assessments. Contractors use such approaches less.”

The PSA knows that some occupations are more exposed to risk than others, including surface treatment operators, mechanics, catering staff and well service personnel. These workers are subject to many risk factors in their working environment – noise and vibration, chemicals, heavy manual labour and awkward postures.

They can suffer injury and sickness unless these risks are well handled and robust barriers have been put in place, Ms Dahle notes.

“It’s worrying to see failures in the basic management systems intended to secure a fully acceptable working environment for everyone.

“We’re also concerned that these shortcomings are greatest in the contractor segment, a category which also starts off with the largest number of risk factors in its working environment.”

A bigger commitment is needed to identify and follow up groups exposed to risk – preferably by developing risk profiles which can improve understanding of the overall picture.

“The industry must also look more closely at the impact of different frame conditions, such as working time arrangements and contractual relationships,” says Ms Dahle.

“Everyone agrees that such general terms are significant for risk, but few are able to provide an overall assessment of which relationships exist.

“We at the PSA want to contribute in this area to an assessment of suitable models and methods for the companies to utilise in their risk-reduction efforts.”

She notes that both operators and contractors have a joint job to do in developing frame conditions which support a fully acceptable working environment for all occupational groups.

“We expect the industry to use the knowledge available about differentials between operator and contractor employees to achieve improvements,” Ms Dahle emphasises.

“Attention and action must be directed at the groups which face the highest risk, and these workers are among our principal priorities in 2009 – as they were last year.

“In other words, we will keep the spotlight focused on this issue in the form of audits, experience transfer in the whole industry and identification of research requirements.”

By Kristin Hoffmann