OSHA and General Contractors

OSHA and General Contractors


In today’s general contracting world, a majority of all general contractors self perform little if any of the work being performed on the job, instead subcontracting all of the work on site to various specialty subcontracts.  The only real work the general contractor is providing is a variety of construction management services including on and off site supervision, coordination and interface between the various subcontractors, the owner and the project architect.  In many ways this is a preferable model for most general contractors as it allows them to minimize their financial exposure on the project, while allowing them to earn a fee based on the aggregate total contract value.  In many cases the only onsite personnel working directly for the general contractor will be a couple of onsite superintendents to supervise and coordinate the daily on site activities.

While general contractors have been able to reduce a great deal of risk under this model to their subcontractors, the general contractor still has a great deal of exposure to fines and other remedies available for safety violations identified by OSHA and other safety enforcement entities.  In recent years there have been an increasing number of violations against general contractors based upon multiple-employer worksite liability doctrine.  Under this doctrine, if employees of a subcontractor are exposed to a workplace safety hazard, the general contractor can be held responsible for the OSHA violation, even if they workers exposed to the hazard are not employees of the general contractor.

Recent court cases continue to uphold the fines and other remedies against general contractors based on this doctrine due to the general contractor’s supervisory role and overall control of the job site.  Furthermore the courts have found that the general contractor does not need to have actual knowledge of a violation to be held liable, but constructive knowledge is sufficient to be cited for the violation.  In other words, if the general contractor could have or should have had knowledge of the violations, they could have taken steps to remedy the violation, due to their supervisory capacity on the project, as well as their contractual relationship with the subcontractors.

The bottom line for general contractors is to educate their onsite and offsite staff on how to monitor the jobsite for safety violations.  In addition, they must be trained in how to take appropriate actions to remedy these situations immediately and know when to escalate the issue to more senior management.  The superintendent simply making a note of a violation in their daily report is not sufficient if the violation is not corrected.   

As a general contractor you are subject to enforcement actions by OSHA for safety violations by your subcontractors on your jobsite because you could have or should have had knowledge of the violation and should have remedied the violation due to your company’s control of the worksite!

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