Insurance – whose responsibility is it?

In an industry where working at height, with electricity or water is a daily reality who is responsible for the health and safety implications?

In all circumstances the employer has the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their employee(s) in the course of their employment. But are you confident you know exactly who your employees are?

It sounds like a daft question but it is a common misunderstanding that self employed contractors are not the responsibility of the employer for Health and Safety and Insurance. There are two categories of Subcontractors and each has their own insurance implications:

  1. Labour Only Subcontractors – The employer generally provides all materials, tools and equipment and the subcontractor works under their control and supervision. Labour Only Subcontractors are treated as direct employees so need to be included in your Employers’ and Public Liability policies.
  2. Bona Fide Subcontractors – Provide their own materials, tools and equipment and will quote for contracts. The Bona Fide Subcontractor is required to arrange Employers’ Liability, Public Liability and also Contract Works cover and Professional Indemnity Insurance where appropriate.

Insurance implications

Liability for negligence is typically passed down the chain of subcontractors, with each firm taking responsibility for its own insurance. However if one of these subcontractors fails to be adequately covered, responsibility could be placed with the main contractor and you will have an obligation to check they are insured. Your Public Liability cover should be extended to include Bona Fide Subcontractors on a contingency basis, should the Bona Fide Subcontractor’s Insurances fail.

Other insurance options you may need to consider:

  • When was the last time you reviewed your bona fide subcontractors’ insurance cover? Your own Public Liability policy will almost certainly contain a condition that requires you check your subcontractors hold insurance up to a certain limit of indemnity, commonly to the same limit as your own policy.
  • Whether you have hired or are going to hire in plant, such as generators and scaffolding equipment as these should be declared to your insurer. If you fail to declare these items you will be liable to the hirer in the event of loss or damage. Make sure that you have a large enough sum insured for high value items of plant and ensure your policy will also pick up continuing hire charges. You will probably remain responsible for hire charges whilst the item of plant is being repaired or replaced.
  • Implementing or reviewing your Health and Safety policy. Even firms with fewer than five employees on their books are required to have a Health and Safety policy in place, along with the correct level of insurance cover. If you have more than 5 employees the policy must be written down. The law states that if a contractor is working for you, you are responsible for their safety.

It is recommended that independent advice is obtained before agreeing to any contractors' insurance policy to make sure you have appropriate cover in place.


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