June 29, 2018

Overcoming the Conflict between Safety and Production: Part 6 – Sub-Contractors and Production Risk Pressures

Companies are required by legislation in countries such as Australia, to reduce risk to ‘As Low As Reasonably Practicable’ (ALARP)

This involves understanding the nature of the risk, the potential consequences to health and safety, options for mitigating the risk and the cost of those options. Companies with big budgets are therefore expected to manage risk more rigorously than your local business owner operating a mechanical workshop. Both have the same duty to prevent fatalities, injuries and illnesses.

Without a doubt, the Australian mining industry, where I’ve spent much of my career, has performed well over the last 10 years compared to other industries such as transport, warehousing, primary industries and construction. The figure below shows the fatality rates by industry for 2007 to 2016.


Overcoming the Conflict between Safety and Production PART 6: SUB-CONTRACTORS AND PRODUCTION PRESSURE Tania Van Der Stap ALIGN Risk Management INX Software


Whilst there are many big companies in the top three high fatality rate industries, there are also many smaller business owners operating as sub-contractors. It raises the question, ‘What’s missing?’ ‘What can be done?’

I believe it starts with empathy and understanding the mindset of sub-contractors. The issues for them include:


  • They must work even when they’re unwell; no work, no pay
  • There is a constant battle with ‘Efficiency Thoroughness Trade-Off’ and at the end of the day there is always more work to be done
  • They must be multi-skilled in every facet of their business
  • Economic pressures are real and payment timeframes are critical imposing an additional stressor
  • Safety compliance is ‘too hard’ and too time-consuming


As a result, small business operators including those sub-contracting to big companies, are in a constant state of production pressure.

So how are these sub-contractors managed?

My observations are that the following structures and requirements are usually in place, for instance in construction:


  • The Principal Company (Tier 1) engaged a Major Contractor (Tier 2)
  • The Major Contractor (Tier 2) is responsible for resourcing the Project and engages Sub-Contractors (Tier 3) who may engage further Sub-Contractors
  • All personnel, including contractors and sub-contractors, complete the Principal’s and Major Contractor’s Inductions
  • All personnel, including contractors and sub-contractors, are required to have licences and certificates for the vehicles they operate and for any high-risk work they perform


When working for big businesses, standards are high but this doesn’t seem to have reached into the community at large. One of the reasons is that despite the checks and balances described above, there are gaps:


  • The lack of training for sub-contractors that specifically focuses on understanding and managing production pressure (both organizational and self-inflicted)
  • The concept of ALARP suggests that the work is now safe. The risk may be as low as possible but what remains is inherent danger
  • ‘Danger’ has diminished from organizational language and been replaced by ‘safe’ ie safety observation, safe systems of work, safe work procedure
  • Ongoing focus on preventing minor injuries is a distraction from those risks that can cause fatalities and serious injuries


The language of safety says that the ‘Inherent Risk’ is before controls are in place.

After controls are implemented, the risk remaining is the ‘Residual Risk’. In ‘Productive Safety Management’ I referred to ‘Residual Risk’ as the ‘Inherent Danger’.

Referring to the Collins Dictionary: “Danger is the possibility that someone may be harmed or killed.”

If we teach personnel, contractors and sub-contractors to recognize the danger and talk the language of ‘danger’, then we have a greater chance of reducing fatalities and serious injuries. This particularly important when workers are suffering from risk blindness to such danger because of production pressures.

For more information on ALIGN’s Risk Leadership Program and Consulting Services, contact info@alignstrategic.com.au

ALIGN Risk Management specializes in Productive Safety Management. We believe HSEQ systems can be efficient, cost-effective and ensure continuity of production.

Tania Van der Stap, Founder and Principal Director of Align Risk Management
Tania Van der Stap is the Founder and Principal Director of Align Strategic Management Services Pty Ltd established in 2002, after having Productive Safety Management published internationally by Butterworth-Heinemann. The publication presents a strategic, multi-disciplinary management system for hazardous industries that ties safety and production together.

From 2002 to 2012, Tania provided HSE consulting services to Chevron’s Gorgon Project, Monadelphous, Baker Hughes, Fortescue Metals Group and Worley Parsons. Thereafter for 5 years, Tania took a HSE Manager’s role with AngloGold Ashanti Australia where she made significant improvements taking the department from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘proactive’ on the HSE journey.

In late 2016, her company was rebadged to Align Risk Management specialising in HSE Consu
lting and Risk Leadership Programs for managers, supervisors, HSE professionals and workers. Her chapter on ‘Risk Leadership – A Multi-Disciplinary Approach’ has been accepted by the American Society of Safety Professionals and will be published in Safety Leadership and Professional Development ahead of the ASSP’s 2018 Safety Conference.

In addition to Productive Safety Management being a substantial, refereed publication, Tania’s credentials include academic qualifications in Commerce and also Public Health and Safety.

Follow Tania on LinkedIn >


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