Contractors Get More Scrutiny

More-stringent background checks address training, security and other issues

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Many chemical makers increasingly rely on contractors to supplement their in-house workforces. Indeed, at some sites, contractors likely make up a majority of the workforce. Pointing up the general trend, “Safety Performance Indicators — 2014 Data,” published in June by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, London, a trade group focused on upstream activities, indicates that contractors accounted for 78% of its members’ total workforce hours in 2014 versus about 50% in 1995 (Figure 1).

Ensuring these contractors meet all requirements — in terms of health and safety training, experience and security — has become a significant administrative burden for operating companies. As a result, many are turning to third parties to verify that contractors satisfy all requisites for a particular site and to match an individual to the most appropriate job.

One company that has taken this route is Lubrizol, Wickliffe, Ohio. Originally, the specialty chemicals maker used in-house databases to manage contractors. In the last year, it has adopted ISNetworld, a database created by ISN, Dallas.

“These systems provide companies such as Lubrizol with leading indicators, as well as providing an accountability and record-keeping tool,” notes Michael McEvoy, senior safety specialist at Lubrizol’s Texas City, Texas, site.

The contractor prequalification systems give safety scores on factors such as experience modifier rate, total recordable incident rate and total recordable rate. Contractors are allowed to access Lubrizol’s contractor safety manual, which is available via ISNetworld. They then must complete questionnaires.

ISN uses various background-checking packages to provide added layers of protection in terms of security.

“These prequalification tools better provide us with leading indicators and snapshot pictures of their safety training along with allowing our company to prescribe expectations before the contractor even comes on site,” adds McEvoy.

Although Lubrizol has implemented ISNetworld for less than a year, the company already is tailoring the database to enhance its benefits. “We have been customizing it alongside their specialists to make sure we can set very effective expectations for our contractors and so get exactly what we want.”

McEvoy particularly notes the success of directly sending communications to contractors about issues such as contractor safety day events, safety alerts and new policies. “ISNetworld allows us read receipts and can even tell us if the communications are being read. I did not have these opportunities with other contractor safety-management programs.”

He also worked hard to ensure the rapid inclusion in the database of the company’s “go to” contracting companies — 95% signed up within the first 90 days.

Today, no contractor is allowed on site without meeting Lubrizol’s prequalifications — all of which are managed within ISNetworld. However, the company retains a waiver policy, which typically applies to small contracting organizations, ones usually with fewer than five engineers. Their staff are permitted on site as visitors and are accompanied at all times by a Lubrizol employee.

ISNetworld has made McEvoy’s job more straightforward but poses more of a challenge to contractors themselves, he says. “Because it is so customizable, contractors who work on numerous sites will have to be thoroughly conversant with all the different site policies.”

Simplifying Clearance

ISN's roster of customers now contains more than 30 chemical companies, including The Dow Chemical Company, PPG Industries and AkzoNobel. “On average, a contractor in the chemical industry is connected with about 13 ISN hiring organizations. By reporting information through ISNetworld, contractors are able to reduce the administrative burden of providing similar information to each hiring organization on an individual basis,” notes ISN director Brittany Surine.

The ISNetworld system has evolved over the years as a result of feedback from both contracting and operating companies. This feedback ranges from small usability-based requests to the development of new tools, such as the training qualifications tool, which many companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico now rely on to comply with the safety and environmental management systems requirements of the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

ISN’s subject matter experts review key pieces of the information that contractors report, ensuring consistency with the requirements set forth by their hiring organizations and regulatory agencies. ISN also partners with over 30 data providers to import training qualifications, audits and other information into ISNetworld, to centralize all the relevant data in one place for its hiring organizations.

A number of companies supply security information to the database in the form of background checks. One is Occuscreen, Vancouver, Wash., which has been providing such checks for 25 years. Its package covers issues such as identity development, criminal records both domestic and international, civil records, driving records and references.

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  • <p>From the contractor side, the way many of these background checks etc. are done, can be a cause for concern. </p> <p>ISTC is a good example as their ID number is basically the individuals SSN less the first 3 digits, also known as the Area Code. If you see someone’s ID number and ask where they’re from, you can potentially have their SSN.</p> <p>Now add to that the requirement that the original SSN card must be presented for even simple things like site specific training, despite that the ISTC database already has this information, and the ISTC card may display Social Security Verification (SSV) on the front of the card. This is both needless and redundant.</p> <p>And then some plants, who have already specified that SSV be done, also demand that the original SSN card be shown to their security guards, who are contractors themselves. More redundancy and more risk to the individual.</p> <p>This may be easy way to attempt coordination of records between systems, but it provides little to no protection to an individual’s identity, and uses one of the least secure forms of ID that’s available.</p> <p>Leaving aside the potential for identity theft that rife within this system, if you consider how easy social security numbers and cards are to falsify, would you design a system around them?</p> <p>We now have senior people that defer some sites to juniors just because of the irritation factor. This denies expertise to plants that they’d really prefer to have.</p> <p>Service providers and plants desire a collaborative environment, but In their headlong rush to appease the plants it appears that common sense has departed from this aspect of the business. </p>

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