For construction supervisors, managing risk comes with the territory. In some instances, the risk associated with project delays and liquidated damages may make some supervisors or construction managers skimp on safety training.
Often, there is the general belief that safety training is important, but is simply common sense and something that most workers are familiar with. Under this flawed belief, managers who are under pressure to meet project deadlines might cut safety training short in exchange for more hours of actual work. While skimping on safety training may seem like a good idea, it rarely is and can result in significant liability for the general contractor and even the property owner.
CONSTRUCTION SITE ACCIDENTS ARE COMMON
Everyone in the construction industry knows that the work can be dangerous. However, to better illustrate the real danger, contractors should look to studies conducted by the Bureau of Labor and other reporting agencies. In 2015, the Bureau of Labor reported more than 4,800 worker fatalities, a large percentage of which involved construction workers. According to the 2015 report, fatal injuries among construction and extraction occupations rose by two percent to 924 cases in 2015—the highest level since 2008. In fact, several construction occupations recorded their highest fatality total in years, including construction laborers (highest since 2008); carpenters (2009); electricians (2009); and plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters (2003). Keep in mind that these statistics only involve fatalities. There are tens of thousands of injuries that occur every year. The principal causes of worker deaths and other injuries on construction sites are falls, being struck by an object, electrocution, machinery and being trapped between objects and/or walls.
THE OCCUPATIONAL SAFETY AND HEALTH ACT OF 1970
Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), workers in the U.S. have a right to a safe workplace. OSHA gives workers the right to file confidential complaints and to have their workplace inspected. OSHA also provides workers with the right to receive training and information to prevent workplace injuries and fatalities.
While OSHA provides rights to workers, it also obligates employers to provide proper and sufficient training and to perform tests to determine if the worksite is safe. There are a number of administrative fines and penalties associated with failing to comply with OSHA. Compliance fatalities and serious injuries can subject the contractor and owners to liability. Violations of OSHA can, in certain circumstances, be used to support a negligence or wrongful death claim.
RESPONSIBILITY FOR WORKER SAFETY
In general, maintaining a safe worksite falls on the shoulders of the general or prime contractor. The duty of care owed by the prime contractors is not easily shirked. In fact, according to OSHA Safety and Health Regulations for Construction, “in no case shall the prime contractor be relieved of overall responsibility for compliance with the requirements of this part for all work to be performed under the contract.” Basically, this means that the general or prime contractor is responsible to the safety of the workers and the general condition of the site.
In some cases, prime contractors, in their subcontract agreements, seek to pass along liability for site and worker safety to subcontractors. OSHA indicates that “to the extent that a subcontractor of any tier agrees to perform any part of the contract, he also assumes responsibility for complying with the standards in this part with respect to that part…With respect to subcontracted work, the prime contractor and any subcontractor or subcontractors shall be deemed to have joint responsibility.” While this may make the subcontractor partially responsible, it arguably does not eliminate the prime contractor’s responsibilities. In fact, it clearly creates a joint responsibility for both.
The construction industry is littered with a wide array of potential hazards. The main hazards in the construction industry include:
- falls from height;
- falling objects;
- exposure to dangerous substances;
- carrying heavy loads;
- dust inhalation;
- injuries from machinery;
- working in confined spaces; and
- motor vehicle accidents.
THE BENEFITS OF PROPER SAFETY TRAINING
Many of the common construction hazards can be contained or avoided if proper safety training is provided. Aside from the obvious benefit of keeping workers safe, a safe workplace will reduce overall construction costs. For example, proper safety training can reduce insured losses, administrative penalties/fines and litigation and attorney’s fees.
Regardless of delays or looming deadlines, safety training should never be viewed as a disposable task. It is critical that each and every employee, even seasoned veterans, attend safety meetings and training on a regular basis. Just the simple fact that regular meetings keep safety on the minds of employees can be beneficial. Managers and supervisors need to invest the time in providing relevant and useful safety instruction and guidance. By making safety a priority, contractors can significantly reduce worksite injuries and deaths.