Improving Contractor Safety Experience and Engagement

Customer Experience


December 14, 2016

This fall, we had the opportunity to contribute to the Cordence Worldwide white paper, “Cordence Perspectives on Contractor Management,” within which we provided North Highland perspective on the impact of safety culture on contractor safety management. As we noted in the white paper, we believe there are three important components of a safety culture: people, jobs and the organization.

For context, contractors represent a critical and significant percentage of the work force in the Energy and Utilities sector. According to a recent article in Utility Contractor Online, utilities are responding to this labor challenge by outsourcing and using contractors particularly for their engineering, construction and maintenance needs. This trend is forecast by the Bureau of Labor Statistics through 2022 and estimates that Contractors will need to expand their workforces by 30 percent by 2022. The shortages in contractor labor will drive up cost in the utility industry.

There are an increasing number of highly complex projects spanning large geographic and geopolitical areas. Contractor safety management comprises a vital component for managing an outsourced workforce, particularly as owners and operators are faced with additional process and personnel safety regulations and standards – both internal and external.

A successful contractor safety program requires a holistic system that manages multiple parts simultaneously. It involves:

Incident reporting – From collecting to reporting, a process that provides timely and actionable information to decision makers will guard against incidents

Contractor safety evaluation – Ensures that the balance of performance evaluation and cost management incentivizes the right behaviors and safety outcomes in the field

Culture influence – Through stakeholder engagement, develop consistency of program content and expectations top to bottom, across the organization

A positive contractor experience can result in higher levels of engagement, mindfulness, communication, as well as proactive reporting of safety violations and recommendations for improvement.


The People component of contractor experience focuses on the interaction between the tangible and intangible experiences of its contractors. Tangible experiences can include onboarding, training, enabling processes, tools and formal communications.

Intangible experiences are built upon daily events or interactions that are not necessarily prescribed or formally documented. This includes fostering a work site where the plant manager, foreman, or operations director greets employees and contractors alike, showing interest in who they are and how they’re doing.

A best practice example is utilizing daily stand up meetings as a forum to continually spotlight the importance of safety mindfulness above cost and schedule pressures. Contractors should feel empowered to make emotional decisions based on rational information (i.e. Stop Work Order).


Features of a positive contractor experience:

  • Effective two-way communications
  • Confidence in the effectiveness of preventative measures
  • Meaningful interactions, such as owner-hosted Contractor Safety Forums
  • Shared purpose and perceptions of safety importance
  • Relationships founded on mutual trust


From a safety perspective, jobs provide a blueprint for how workers contribute to safe and efficient operations.  For each role, position or job, there prescribed sets of expectations or responsibilities which provide guidelines for how a person should perform or behave.

A good contractor experience consists of an environment where:

  • Roles and responsibilities are clear
  • Safety goals and expectations are consistently communicated and measured
  • Risks are regularly assessed
  • Behaviors are enforced (or reinforced) with positive and negative consequences

The Job interaction on a work site can often take shape as part of Behavior Based Safety programs, which are rooted in behavioral science and emphasize the achievement of results through primarily positive performance levers.


Positive contractor experience requires strong organizational leadership aligned around safety as a top priority, with the belief that contractors represent an extension of their organization. It’s important that they also embody the values they promote (“walk the talk”).

A few organizational best practices include having:

  • Visible operator and contractor leadership
  • Open and honest communication across roles and levels
  • Knowledge management and sharing platform/tools
  • Thorough and consistent JSAs
  • Proper allocation of resources
  • Regular monitoring, evaluation and risk assessments

For more on this topic, check out Greg and Katherine’s recent contribution to the Cordence Worldwide White Paper, “Cordence Perspectives on Contractor Management.”


Katherine MollyThis post was co-authored by Katherine Molly. Katherine works with executive management and project teams to improve organization processes for safety and reliability, reduce capital program and business process risks, and resolve program/ project crisis and disputes in the energy industries. Supporting owners, contractors, engineers, their legal counsel and sureties, she has led assessment and improvement organization and project programs, enhanced project execution, coalesced conflicting parties, and participated in the settlement/litigation of business and project disputes ranging from $1 million to multi-billion dollars.