Health and safety in a changing world

IOSH is committed to evidence-based practice in workplace safety and health. We maintain a research fund to support research, lead debate and inspire innovation as part of our work as a thought-leader in safety and health.

Our five-year research programme, Health and Safety in a Changing World, set out to explore the landscape of occupational safety and health and its implications for developing solutions that provide effective protection for workers and their communities.

Commissioned by IOSH, studies were undertaken by teams from the Institute of Occupational Medicine, Loughborough University, Cranfield University and the universities of Nottingham, Reading and Portsmouth, under the direction of Professor Robert Dingwall.

The findings are examined in a book, Health and Safety in a Changing World, edited by Prof Dingwall and IOSH executive director Shelley Frost, published by Routledge.

Here, we present the full reports of the studies. This is a summary of key findings.


Challenge to H&S of global-local contracting

PharmaCo is based in the USA.  It has four R&D sites in the UK.  PharmaCo outsourced the management, maintenance, renovation and re-purposing of these R&D facilities to FMCo, a global laboratory service company, which is also based in the USA.

Whilst relationships are positive between the USA headquarters of both companies, there are tensions between their UK operations resulting from the local implementation of the outsourcing arrangements.

FMCo expects and requires its UK staff to adhere to its company policies and procedures that are issued by its USA headquarters.   However, these are insufficient to comply with UK legal requirements for H&S because FMCo’s USA staff do not understand the duties that apply, for example under CDM 2015 for construction work.

In addition FMCo staff working on PharmaCo’s four R&D sites in the UK are expected to adhere to PharmaCo’s H&S requirements:

So now we’ve got PharmaCo procedures, we’ve got FMCo –UK corporate procedures and now we’ve got procedures from [FMCo] America. Which ones do we follow?

At an organisation level this dilemma creates tensions when FMCo’s compliance is monitored and failure to comply with PharmaCo’s internal standards emerge.

It also has ramifications for the H&S of local FMCo staff,  as brought into sharp relief during H&S training: which set of procedures should be trained and adhered too? This discrepancy also creates doubt and uncertainty in the minds of local FMCo staff about whether they would be ‘supported’ and ‘protected’ by their organization in dealing with PharmaCo if there were serious incidents on one of the UK sites.

The outsourcing contract required FMCo to make substantial annual cost savings.  This resulted in FMCo reducing the number of its staff working permanently on PharmaCo’s contract each year.  These reductions were mainly of engineers on each of the four R&D sites rather than the managers and administrators based at FMCo’s London offices.

To satisfy Pharma Co’s needs and contractual cost constraints some FMCo managers may inevitably be inclined to disregard certain procedures aligned to H&S compliance and cut corners in order ‘to get the job done’ with fewer and fewer site staff.  But these transgressions are never disciplined, which effectively endorses the approach:

We always get incidents, we’ll have a major thing on the account and senior management will turn around and say right, we’re going to do some seminars and we’ll tell everybody the next time it happens somebody will get disciplined. Then the next time something happens it’s like we’ll give them a telling off again. It just goes on and on and on.”

Key Learning Points:

  • Clients need to establish common performance standards with their contractors that align with national legal duties.
  • Contracting organisations need to understand any national regulatory requirements that apply and ensure their corporate polices meet or exceed them.
  • Operational H&S arrangements need to be established locally by the client with their contractors during mobilisation to help secure successful contract delivery.
  • Contractual requirements (notably cost reduction clauses) can adversely impact on the ability of local staff to deliver the contract safely and without risks to health.