New Zealand has a time-honoured tradition of contracting out “non-core” business. But under the Health and Safety at Work Act, you can’t transfer your duty of care to another person: You are still obliged to ensure your contractors, their sub-contractors and their respective staff are competent to safely carry out work on your behalf.

It gets tricky if your appetite for risk is different from others in your value chain. If you are engaging contractors, you will want assurance that everything is thoroughly tied down. If you’re a contractor who has been doing the work forever, you probably feel that your word is enough, that you haven’t got enough time to complete all the paperwork to show evidence that you are actually onto it.

The problem is, in many cases simply filling out paperwork is not enough. For example, a health and safety policy is really just a statement of intent. Sure, you need a policy to be able to enforce it. But it doesn’t of itself demonstrate that your people follow the policy, or even that they’ve seen it or understood it!

So how do you get visibility across your value chain, without collapsing the business under the weight of paper?

Perhaps the best, and most sustainable, way is to ensure the contractors have health and safety built into their business processes, and to require evidence that they are working. Evidence could include the current training plan and the accident register (the latter is required to be kept by law). Copies of provisional improvement and/or prohibition notices issued by the regulator may be insightful. The processes used to employ and monitor sub-contractors are also useful to understand how well risks are understood and managed.

The requirement for PCBUs to “consult, cooperate and coordinate activities” in respect to shared matters will help each party to understand the other’s appetite for risk, and to agree who will be responsible for managing the risks, as appropriate. The key here is to remember who has control or influence over the work site, and who is commissioning the work. The person commissioning the work may not directly control the work site when the work is being carried out, but still has a responsibility to ensure the workers are competent to perform the work safely.

Ignorance is no defence. As the regulator, WorkSafe NZ points out: Doing nothing is not an option!

Talk to Major Consulting Group Ltd on 0800 44 00 70 about designing systems that will give you visibility across your value chain, helping you to understand your risks and decide what to do about them.

This article was first published on LinkedIn in March 2016.