Manage contractors and sub-contractors

Learn about your role to create a safe workplace for contractors and sub-contractors.



How this helps your business

The landscape of employment is changing in Australia. Many industries are moving away from traditional full time employment and work is increasingly being completed through contractors and sub-contractors.

By supporting contractors and sub-contractors to be both physically and mentally safe and healthy, this can create a positive impact on the overall health and wellbeing of your workplace.

Key stats and facts


return on investment for every $1 invested in creating mentally healthy workplaces in the transport, postal and warehousing industry.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2014, Creating a mentally healthy workplace


return on investment for every $1 invested in creating mentally healthy workplaces in the construction industry.

PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2014, Creating a mentally healthy workplace

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

The nature of contractor and sub-contractor work can have an affect on their mental health. Factors that can contribute to this can include:

  • irregularity of work
  • long hours
  • strict deadlines often beyond their control
  • lack of job security
  • contract pressures
  • financial pressures – inconsistent cash flow, cost of equipment, insurance premiums, business overheads
  • management of employees and other sub-contractors
  • fatigue
  • liquidated damages
  • competing demands from different workplaces

Refer to the Manager's guide below for information and strategies to manage mental wellbeing for shift workers.

You should consider the nature of the work that is generally undertaken by your contractors and sub-contractors when drafting and implementing workplace policies. Well-developed policies and procedures in your workplace can have a positive impact on the health and safety of your employees, contractors and sub-contractors, and can assist your workplace in achieving:

  • greater productivity
  • improved workplace engagement
  • fewer sick days
  • fewer compensation claims
  • greater ability to recruit and retain talented employees, contractors and sub-contractors
  • being considered a workplace of choice

Providing and maintaining a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of your employees, contractors and sub-contractors can translate into a positive contribution to your bottom line. Every $1 invested into creating mentally healthy workplaces, can see an average return of $2.30. In construction this could be up $2.50, while those in the transport, postal and warehousing industry can see an average return on investment of $2.80.

Step 2

Understand your obligations

It is important to understand what duties you have in relation to contractors and sub-contractors under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act).

As an employer, you must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for your employees a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.

This duty also extends to independent contractors that you engage, and any employees of these independent contractors (sub-contractors), in relation to matters over which you have control, unless there is an agreement which limits or removes that control.

For further information regarding your legal duties to your employees, contractors and other persons:

Step 3

Talk with your contractors and sub-contractors

Consulting with contractors and sub-contractors can help you to identify ways to improve how you identify, eliminate and control risks in your workplace. Regularly discussing health and safety with employees, contractors and sub-contractors can help to identify hazards, and control risks in the workplace before they become problems.

Contractors and sub-contractors may work or have worked in many different workplaces, so they can bring their knowledge and experience of identifying hazards and controlling risks in the workplace.

There are many ways you can talk with your team about identifying risks, including:

  • regular formal meetings where OHS is an agenda item. These could be 'toolbox talks', production meetings, staff meetings or any way your organisation communicates with each other
  • casual walk around your workplace with your staff
  • conversations with Health and Safety Representatives
  • conversations with your health and safety committee/s.

Make sure you start discussions early and continue talks throughout the process.

Step 4

Make a plan

Identify two to three ways you can get your contractors and sub-contractors involved in your workplace health, safety and wellbeing initiatives. Some things to consider can include:

  • Policy/planning – maintaining good communication throughout a project will ensure that workers on site are informed about progress across the site and can feel engaged in the project well beyond their individual work tasks. Promoting a collaborative and positive workplace culture where possible is vital for improving mental health on site.
  • Supervisory staff – A collaborative rather than hierarchical structure can be helpful to organisation of work. Team-based approaches can have a positive impact particularly across trade groups around tasks and outcomes.
  • Purpose of work – Where possible, workers should be encouraged to focus on the social value of the project.
  • Team building – Working with peer support networks can help to build teams and social cohesion around a purpose. For example, participating in public campaigns or fundraising at work can build a more positive, cohesive work environment.
  • Surveying – Encouraging active and engaged conversation can help staff take on board suggestions and improvements.
  • Blueprint for Better Mental Health and Suicide Prevention 2018-2020, MATES in Construction, 2017, pp15.

Watch this case study from Melbourne Water, who saw a number of positive outcomes by including contractors and sub-contractors in their safety procedures. Think about the next step you can take to include them in your workplace's mental health and wellbeing procedures and initiatives.

Financial pressure can often cause stress within the workplace. If appropriate, share the resource below with your contractors and sub-contractors.

Step 5

Review and keep improving

Look back at the strategies you identified in Step 4 and see if they are having the impact you expected them to. Below are some ideas on how you can do this in your workplace:

  • Ask your contractors and sub-contractors to be part of your engagement surveys if they have been working with you for extended periods of time.
  • Make sure everyone is aware of the key contacts and support services available to them and communicate this through visible locations in the workplace.
  • Across their period of employment, ensure that discussions regarding mental health and wellbeing continue to take place. This doesn't have to be formal, but can be as simple as having a chat and asking how they are feeling.
  • Ask your contractors and sub-contractors for their feedback and ask what you could do differently or what other initiatives could be implemented to improve workplace health and safety.
  • Use the different levels of management as an advantage, and where possible personalise these strategies.

An example of a support system in the workplace is the Bluehats initiative run by Incolink. This suicide prevention program is designed in partnership with the construction industry. It aims to help workers who are on site when they're feeling down or just need to talk to someone by having designated support workers wear easily recognisable blue hard hats in the workplace.

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Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.