You could be cited for OSHA violations by contract workers

Date Posted: 08/28/2023
contract worker

If your company hires contractors like plumbers or electricians, your company could be liable for OSHA violations created by those contractors. OSHA’s multi-employer citation policy (CPL 02-00-124) recognizes four employer categories, although an employer may fall into more than one category. The categories include:

  • The Creating Employer
  • The Exposing Employer
  • The Correcting Employer
  • The Controlling Employer

Those names are somewhat self-explanatory, like who created the hazard, whose workers are exposed to the hazard, and who has authority to correct the hazard.

If an OSHA inspector finds a violation at a multi-employer worksite, the inspector will determine which category your company falls under, then decide if your company can be cited for failing to meet its obligations. The specific obligations differ for each category.

Creating Employer

The creating employer caused the hazardous condition, and a contractor could create a hazard. OSHA gives an example of a contractor damaging a guardrail, creating a hazard and a violation. Although the contractor would not fix the guardrail, it must take immediate and effective steps to keep all employees away from the hazard and notify the controlling employer of the hazard.

Exposing Employer

An exposing employer is one whose employees are exposed to the hazard. Your employees could be exposed to hazards created by other employers, like working near a damaged guardrail.

Even if another employer (like the contractor) created the violation, the employer whose workers are exposed to the hazard (your company) could still get cited if it:

  1. Knew of the hazardous condition or failed to exercise reasonable diligence to discover the condition, and
  2. Failed to take steps consistent with its authority to protect its employees.

If the exposing employer has the authority to correct the hazard, it must do so. Even if it lacks the authority to correct a hazard, OSHA may still cite the exposing employer if it fails to:

  1. Ask the creating or controlling employer to correct the hazard;
  2. Inform its employees of the hazard; and
  3. Take reasonable alternative protective measures.

Correcting Employer

The correcting employer is responsible for correcting the hazard. Often, the creating employer will also be the correcting employer. Correcting employers must exercise reasonable care to identify and prevent violations, and meet their obligations for remediating hazards. OSHA’s policy outlines the “reasonable care” duties under the “controlling employer” obligations.

Controlling Employer

The controlling employer has general supervisory authority, including the power to correct violations or require others to correct them. A controlling employer must exercise reasonable care to identify and prevent violations.

The extent of this duty is less than what’s expected from an employer protecting its own employees. For example, a controlling employer is not normally required to inspect for hazards as frequently or to have the same level of knowledge or expertise as the employer it has hired.

In evaluating reasonable care, OSHA inspectors consider questions such as whether the employer:

  • Conducted periodic inspections of appropriate frequency;
  • Implemented an effective system for promptly correcting hazards;
  • Enforced the other employer’s compliance with an effective, graduated system of enforcement and follow-up inspections.

Even if the controlling employer’s contract does not explicitly grant the authority to require OSHA compliance, the controlling employer may still have that authority. OSHA provides an example of a subcontractor requesting to delay work at an elevated location until guardrail installation is complete. If the controlling employer has authority over that scheduling, it should agree to the delay. And of course, all employers remain responsible for protecting their own employees.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

When hiring a contractor, communicating safety expectations can help avoid conflicts about who is responsible for correcting hazards or violations. This better protects both your workers and the contract workers. The Written Plans tool in the J. J. Keller® SAFETY MANAGEMENT SUITE offers numerous plan template that can be modified as needed, including a “Contractor safety policy” that can be used when hiring contractors.

E-mail Newsletter

Sign up to receive the weekly EHS Insider email newsletter for safety articles, news headlines, regulatory alerts, industry events, webcasts, and more.