General contractors and other job-site employers may be held responsible for violations created by a subcontractor whose workers are exposed to safety or health hazards, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission has ruled.
The decision upholds the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s multi-employer citation policy and reverses a decision that the Commission itself made during the previous administration.
Under the policy, OSHA inspectors may cite employers on multi-employer worksites for violations that do not expose their own workers to occupational hazards. For example, a general contractor who controls the worksite may be responsible for violations created by a subcontractor, exposing the subcontractor’s employees to safety or health hazards.
The Commission’s Aug. 19 decision affirms an earlier decision by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The court had rejected the Commission's previous view that employers are legally responsible only for protecting the safety and health of their own workers.
“[O]nce an employer is deemed responsible for complying with OSHA regulations, it is obligated to protect every employee who works in its workplace,” the Commission wrote in its ruling, quoting a precedent set in another case.
The case under consideration involved Summit Contractors Inc., a general contractor constructing an apartment complex in Lebanon, Pa., in 2005. An OSHA compliance officer cited Summit for a safety violation after observing workers of a subcontractor using electrical equipment that lacked Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters that had been brought onto the worksite by Summit.
The Commission found that Summit “maintained significant control over the worksite in general and over the cited condition in particular, such that it was liable for this violation.”
The OSHA policy, issued in 1999, also notes that more than one employer may be cited for the same violation at a site.