Give the benefit of your expertise to small suppliers

Former editor, IOSH Magazine

When I wrote mostly about environmental management I often covered programmes by larger organisations, which, having taken steps to manage their own impacts, had started to monitor and help reduce those of their suppliers. 

In most cases a push for supply chain improvement, whether it was cutting energy and materials use or pollution control, balanced the stick with the carrot.

Suppliers might be advised they would be expected to cut waste by a set percentage or to achieve accreditation for their management system by a certain date or they would lose a contract. But the client organisation often provided encouragement and advice to help them reach that point by the deadline.

When I switched focus to safety and health management 12 years ago, I was struck by the absence of parallel initiatives.

There was, and is, a lot of talk of control of contractors; employers check that anyone providing a service on their worksites or premises is capable of basic worker protection. Increasingly, organisations screen potential contractors to see if they have poor OSH records.

But the impetus for this due diligence is principally legal compliance, since liability for accidents to contractors’ workers can be shared by the client – evidenced in Britain by many prosecutions under s 3(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act.

But there are signs of a broader approach among some employers. Vodafone and developer Land Securities, among others, roll up injuries among contractors’ employees into their own in reporting OSH metrics publicly. “Owning” those accidents gives the clients a very strong interest in managing them down. That may still necessitate a “my way or the highway” approach in some cases, severing ties where suppliers prove unable or unwilling to reach an acceptable standard.

But it leads some to make an effort to support contractors in raising their games, sharing good practice and support materials.

If IOSH members in large- and medium-sized organisations can find the time to share their expertise in keeping their employees safer and healthier with smaller suppliers then their influence will be felt in the part of the employment market that contributes disproportionately to accident rates.

The institution’s executive director of policy, Shelley Frost, has predicted before in IOSH Magazine that safety and health management will become an important component of corporate sustainability and responsibility measurement. If that’s true, then encouraging good OSH practice all the way down the supply chain could gain practitioners some credit, as well as being a good in itself.


Louis Wustemann is former editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.

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