OSHA compliance responsibilities can get tangled and confusing on construction sites, especially when different entities are working closely together on a project.  A recent OSHA ruling in the Boston area illustrates the point.

3 workers were seriously injured when the plank on a scaffold they were working on snapped and they fell 20 feet to the ground.  The 3 workers were apparently employed by a company called AC Castle Construction, but another entity, Daryl Provencher, was apparently overseeing and directing the work.  After the accident, OSHA issued citations to AC Castle Construction (the direct “employer” of the 3 injured workers) but they contested the citations claiming that the workers were actually employees of Provencher.  

A judge disagreed and ruled that since the 2 entities worked so closely together on the project, they (both AC Construction and Provencher) were actually considered a single employer and thus responsible for the health and safety of the workers, and therefore also responsible for the citations and paying the $173,500 OSHA fines.  

The key issue involves OSHA’s “controlling employer” doctrine which states that whoever controls a job site and supervises the activities of workers is ultimately responsible for the health and safety of both the job site and the workers.  In other words, just because the employees don’t get paid directly by the controlling employer doesn’t necessarily mean that the controlling employer isn’t responsible for their health and safety, and OSHA compliance requirements.  Again, it comes down to determining who is actually supervising, directing and managing the work.  That party is ultimately responsible for any employees involved in the project, regardless of who is paying them.  In this case, even though the 2 entities were “legally” separate, as far as OSHA was concerned, they were actually a single entity and employer.

We’ve found that among small construction companies, there’s a commonly held misconception that general contractors aren’t responsible for the health and safety of subcontractors, and that they can’t get fined by OSHA for violations, but this example proves that this isn’t necessarily the case.    

More information can be found on OSHA’s website.

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