Everyone wants to maintain a safe construction site. A safe site is good for workers and clients, good for business, and keeps OSHA inspectors at bay.
But when there is an injury or accident, who is responsible? That depends on several factors, including contract provisions, control of the work on the site, and relationships with subcontractors and their employees.
Below are four key aspects to consider.
1. Owner Responsibility
When an owner hires a general contractor for a construction project, the owner is seldom liable for any injuries or accidents that occur on the site. Of course, exceptions would be made if the owner retained control over how the work was carried out. However, in most instances, owners make it clear through contract stipulations that contractors are hired as independent contractors, which implicitly assigns site safety to them.
2. Contractor Responsibility
In broad terms, the general contractor controls most of the work that creates safety risks on a construction site and thus is usually responsible for site safety. Most contracts between owners and contractors specify that liability. A contractor holds responsibility for the methods, means and procedures on a site and is therefore liable for any acts that cause injury.
There are times when contractors are held responsible both for their employees and their subcontractors’ employees. This can be the case if the courts perceive that a contractor knew such employees were not following procedure or protecting themselves from hazards. A contractor can also be held liable if they maintain control of the subcontractor’s procedures and methods. However, if the general contractor does not maintain such control, courts have often ruled that the general contractor has no liability for subcontractor employee injuries.
This control must be clearly stated in the contract between contractors and subcontractors. Such language should address detailed and specific safety issues and responsibilities for all parties.
3. Subcontractor Responsibility
In many cases, the subcontractor is held responsible for safety related to their work and their employees’ work. This liability is usually stipulated in the contract and may often require the subcontractor to hold the general contractor harmless from any damages or claims resulting from the subcontractor’s work. That includes injuries to the subcontractor’s employees.
4. Multi-Employer Sites
Issues of safety and liability can become murkier on a multi-employer site. With different subcontractors and workers coming and going, who has control of a site can change daily. If workers are injured and try to sue the general contractor for damages, they will need to prove that the general contractor had control of the site and/or was aware of a hazard and failed to intervene, and it may be difficult to show evidence of that failing.
Before you agree to any new project, you must read and understand all contract language. Never sign an agreement without being sure of its contents. In addition, if you are a contractor or subcontractor, you must be aware to what responsibility you are agreeing. If you fail to adequately review your contract, you may find yourself liable for a worksite injury. Such liability can be expensive if you must defend yourself in court, and it can hurt your business.
The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.