Over the years, MEMIC’s construction industry safety specialists have inspected many jobs with numerous subcontractors on a single site. Now and again, some of the subs complain that the general contractor picks on them for "little safety things." Now, sometimes what's “a little safety thing” to a subcontractor, such as no fall protection or working above another contractor, is a very big safety thing to a GC. Often, we explain that the general contractor doesn't want to see them get hurt – which quite often is the case and that is enough explanation. If that doesn't work, then we might need to walk them through what OSHA calls its multi-employer directive.
This directive was developed to define safety responsibilities if there’s more than one company working on the same jobsite. Usually, the entity with the most to lose is the general contractor because they’re ultimately responsible for everybody there. A good overview of how the players are seen in the eyes of OSHA was forwarded to me by one of our directors at MEMIC, John Dodge, and he spells it out as follows:
In regard to multi-employer work sites, an employer can be classified as creating, exposing, correcting or controlling of hazards (OSHA Directive CPL 2-0.124 12/10/1999). If a company exposes a subcontractor’s employees to a hazard, they are creating or exposing, and if the host company has a contract to oversee and control a subcontractor’s work practices, they would be classified as controlling or correcting.
The above directive defines a controlling employer as "an employer who has general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations itself or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice."
OSHA further states that the controlling employer must exercise reasonable care to prevent and detect violations on the site.
So, as a general contractor, a company may be deemed a controlling employer by contract or exercise of authority.
And of course if any of the general contractor employees are facing a potential injury from a sub’s negligence, they must take immediate steps to remove their employees from the hazard, exercise any contract provisions that require safe work conditions, and notify the subcontractor of the condition.
One fact that should be evident in Mr. Dodge's explanation is that the GC and the subcontractors are joined at the hip in the eyes of OSHA. If you consider one subcontractor being held accountable for a "little safety thing," and then add six or eight other subs with their own "little safety thing," you might be able to appreciate the controlling contractor’s concern. Not only do they want to run a safe project, they want to avoid OSHA citations brought on by others.