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Are you a prime contractor? Beware liability for your subs’ safety violations

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

OSHA is responsible for worker safety, and it takes that responsibility seriously. It recently won a significant victory in the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld OSHA’s right to hold contractors liable for their subcontractors’ safety violations.

The decision makes clear that contractors must push subcontractors on safety even if those safety violations aren’t any danger to the contractor’s own employees.

Recent case: Summit Contractors was the general contractor on a college dormitory project, but subcontracted almost all the work to others. Summit had only four employees on site: a project superintendent and three assistants. None of those employees was actively engaged in construction.

Summit employees saw that one of the subcontractors allowed employees to work on scaffolds without required protective gear or handrails. That’s an obvious safety violation that put those employees at risk. An OSHA inspector saw the violation and issued a citation to Summit, although none of its employees could have been injured by the violation.

Summit sued, alleging that it hadn’t created the hazard and that it had no duty to protect any employees other than its own from workplace hazards.

The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals said OSHA could legally hold Summit responsible. It reasoned that Summit could use its influence as the general contractor to ensure that subcontractors obey safety rules and regulations. (Solis v. Summit Contractors, No. 07-2191, 8th Cir., 2009)

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