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On a construction job site, safety is everyone’s responsibility. Rules established by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) state that every contractor, regardless of its role, has a non-transferable duty to protect its employees from all hazards—regardless of who created them. This means that a general contractor, a subcontractor acting as a general contractor, or a sole proprietor who has subbed out specialty work can receive an OSHA citation and fine if an employee under them is injured on the job.

When issuing a citation, an OSHA inspector first determines the role each employer fits into.

  • The creating employer is the one who created the hazardous condition by violating an OSHA safety standard. OSHA will cite the creating employer even if they employees injured by or exposed to the hazard work for another employer on the jobsite.

  • The exposing employer is the one whose employees were exposed to the hazard because the employer knew of and ignored the hazardous situation, failed to discover the hazardous situation, and failed to take steps necessary to protect its employees. These steps may include correcting the hazard, asking the creating employer to correct the hazard, and removing employees from the job.

  • The correcting employer is also responsible for correcting the worksite hazards. Correcting employers are usually employers hired to install or maintain certain health or safety equipment or devices.

  • The controlling employer is the jobsites general supervisor. The controlling employer has the authority to address and correct all safety issues and is therefore expected to do so.

If you’re going to be the controlling employer on the jobsite, you should have a safety management plan in place before you begin hiring subcontractors. Consider doing the following to reduce your chances of winding up with a costly OSHA fine:

  • Include a provision in your subcontractor contract that states they are required to follow all OSHA safety standards while working on your jobsite.

  • Require subcontractors to submit a copy of their safety manual and worker training materials along with injury and illness records before you hire them. Don’t subcontract work to employers with poor records or who have incomplete safety programs in place.

  • Require every subcontractor you hire to produce a site-specific training programas well. Ask them to guarantee in writing that each of their workers will receive site-specific training before their first day on the jobsite.

  • If second and third-tier subcontractors are used, make sure your subcontractors report them to you as well as require them to submit the same safety program and training documentation.

  • If the subcontractor or its employees will be performing work six or more feet above lower levels, require proof of a fall protection plan as well as documentation showing all employees have received fall protection training.

  • Require the subcontracts to prove they have workers compensation insurance in place for all of their employees.

  • Host a safety orientation for all subcontractors and employees before the job begins. Require all subcontractors and their employees to wear hardhats and safety goggles on the jobsite.

With proper safety planning and subcontractor management, you can avoid exposure to costly OSHA citations. For more insight or advice on this or any other construction risk management topic, give us a call.


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