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Managing Contractors: A Guide for Residential Property Owners

Failing to ensure that contractors work safely can, and does, lead to many accidents and injuries to the contractor’s employees, tenants, their visitors and people living nearby. This has resulted in civil claims for compensation and criminal prosecution against landlords. It is important to understand what the law requires of landlords and how to put this into practice to avoid such incidents.

Legal Duties
The legal situation is spelt out in the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, viz: Section 3 requires employers and the self-employed to ensure that the way they conduct their undertaking does not endanger persons not in their employ.

Using a contractor is one way in which a landlord “conducts” his or her “undertaking”. They can, therefore, be criminally liable should the contractor cause injury, for example, to a tenant. It is important to show that what is reasonably practicable to reduce any such risk has been done.

In its widest sense, the term “contractor” does not merely refer to building contractors. It includes any individual or company who come on to a property to fulfil a contractual obligation between the landlord and a third party company. Contractors could include:

  • Builders/Joiners
  • Telephone engineers
  • Window cleaners
  • Contract cleaners
  • Plumbers
  • Electrical/mechanical maintenance engineers
  • Grounds Maintenance/Gardeners

There are other more detailed legal requirements for construction work. If contractors are being engaged to undertake construction or demolition work (as defined), the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations will apply.

Selection of Contractors
Firstly, it is necessary clearly identify all aspects of the work the contractor is required to undertake.

When selecting contractors, health and safety aspects must be taken into account as well as the competence of the contractor to complete the work. Landlords or their agents need to satisfy themselves that contractors are competent (i.e. they have sufficient skills and knowledge) to do the job safely and without risks to health and safety.

The landlord questioning a potential contractor should establish:

  • What experience they have in the work required
  • Their health and safety performance (number of accidents etc)
  • What qualifications and skills they have
  • If they have any independent assessment of their competence
  • If they are a member of a reputable trade or professional body (details of such organisations (details of such organisations are given in the Yellow Pages Telephone Directory)

Landlords or their agents are then in a position to decide how much evidence (such as taking up references) they need to take in support of what they have been told by the prospective contractors.

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Insurance Checks
As part of the selection procedure landlords should also include a check that the contractor has adequate employers’ liability and public liability insurance cover. It is recommended that Public Liability insurance should give at least £5 million cover and ideally should be sufficient to cover the full reinstatement value of the property where the work is being undertaken.

Many accidents involving contractors have happened because of a failure to plan the job properly; i.e. taking into account health and safety aspects which are likely to arise.

A risk assessment needs to be made by the contractor and communicated to all involved.

Landlords should make any relevant information they have available to the contractor.

Tenants need to be consulted on the nature of the work and how it will affect their occupation of the premises. It is helpful to seek their co-operation.

Clear Responsibilities
The work to be done, the areas in which the contractors can operate, together with what can and cannot be done, should be clearly defined.

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Monitoring and Contractor Appraisal
The client is responsible for monitoring the health and safety performance of the contractor as work progresses. This could include periodic inspections. If the contractor is undertaking their work in a way that endangers the tenants or the public, it is essential that their attention is drawn to it.

When the contractor has finished the work, an important decision has to be taken; i.e. in the light of our experience, would this particular contractor be offered the job again?

A simple log should be kept by the landlord or their agent of any incidents or concerns arising during the course of the works, which should be reviewed with the contractor with a view to improving performance.

Key Action Steps

  • Adopt a structured approach to the selection of contractors
  • Check contractors carry adequate Employers and Public Liability Insurance
  • Consult tenants on what is to be carried out to ensure access etc
  • Segregate tenants form the work activities where appropriate
  • Require that contractors adopt formal procedures to ensure that works are carried out with due regard to health and safety
  • Keep a record of incidents occurring during the works and review with the contractor

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