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:
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
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.