Workers who are contracted to work on building or renovating worksites, including flooring professionals, regularly face potentially hazardous work conditions. These workers are exposed to a much higher risk of being seriously injured or killed than employees in other lines of work. A contractor’s top priority should be providing a safe and healthy work environment for all employees. Contractors should ensure that employees understand and comply with all safety procedures to decrease the likelihood of an injury.
Unfortunately, despite best efforts, accidents will happen. This article will outline steps that contractors should take to help prevent accidents as well as necessary actions if an accident occurs. Contractors should understand that careless or willful disregard of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety standards can result in substantial OSHA fines, or even jail time in the case of a fatality that is caused by a willful citation.
Step 1: Prepare a Safety Plan
Contractors should be prepared for accidents well before they occur. A general contractor is responsible for everyone’s safety at the worksite. OSHA has cited general contractors for violations of subcontractors, even where the general contractor’s employees are not exposed to the hazard. The general contractor is considered the “controlling employer” who has general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations.
The controlling employer must exercise reasonable care to prevent and detect violations on the site. A key component to proving reasonable care is the preparation and administration of a safety plan. The contractor and his or her safety personnel will be the ones to ensure that the safety plan is being followed. Each worksite is different, and as a result, there is no standard plan that applies in all situations, but the following are elements of a good health and safety program that contractors should bear in mind:
- Management Commitment and Employee Involvement: Contractors should lead their employees by setting up a safety policy, assigning responsibilities to appropriate individuals, and involving all employees in maintaining a safe work environment.
- Worksite Analysis: The worksite is continually analyzed to identify all existing and potential hazards.
- Hazard Prevention and Control: Methods to prevent or control existing or potential hazards are administered and maintained.
- Training for Employees, Supervisors, and Managers: All employees who will be on the worksite are properly trained to understand and deal with worksite hazards.
Once the work begins, the contractor must include safety matters as a key element during his or her daily meetings and inspections of the worksite. While walking through the worksite, he or she must keep an eye out for all potential sources of harm to workers or unsafe conditions that could result in injury to his or her employees. Being prepared for accidents at the worksite will help to prevent accidents and minimize the damage from those that do occur.
Step 2: Act Diligently
The second step is to act diligently once an accident has happened. All injuries should be dealt with directly and efficiently. If there is a medical emergency, qualified on-site personnel should administer first aid and call 9-1-1 immediately. Once the medical issues have been addressed, and the injured person is being provided with proper medical care, contractors should focus on collecting and preserving information regarding the accident. Information to be collected should include, but not be limited to, the names of all parties involved, witness statements, and any photographic or video evidence of the accident that can be collected. This information will be useful when trying to reconstruct the sequence of events for insurance claims or determining liability, as well as to learn how to prevent similar accidents in the future. The information gathered during this investigation may point to an employee misconduct issue, mechanical failure, or a completely unforeseen safety issue that will require employee retraining in the future.
Step 3: Report Appropriately
Contractors must report the incident to the appropriate governing administrative agency. Depending on the location of the accident, it may be federal OSHA or an OSHA-approved state agency. OSHA is an agency of the United States Department of Labor whose mission is to “assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education, and assistance.”
OSHA requires all employers to notify the agency within eight hours of a workplace fatality. All employers are also required to notify OSHA within 24 hours of any work-related overnight hospitalizations, amputations (with or without bone loss) and/or losses of an eye. To make an OSHA report, contractors should call the nearest OSHA office, the 24-hour hotline at 800.321.6742, or report online at osha.gov/pls/ser/serform.html.
Failing to report in a timely fashion can be the basis of an OSHA citation on its own. If an employer is required to make a report to OSHA, preparation for a potential follow up on-site inspection is key. Especially with a fatality report, employers should expect an on-site inspection within 24 to 48 hours of reporting. An on-site inspection is a possibility with any of the mandatory reporting situations, so employers need to conduct an immediate post-accident inspection to determine the cause of the accident and to prepare for a possible OSHA inspection. If there is an inspection, the OSHA inspector will request copies of relevant OSHA safety policies, training records, injury and illness logs as well as in-person interviews with witnesses and managers.
Following these steps will help employers reduce on-site accidents and be prepared for possible OSHA inspections following a reporting situation.
Barbara Dunn O’Neal is a Partner with the Associations and Foundations Practice Group at Barnes & Thornburg, where she concentrates her practice in association law and meetings, travel, and hospitality law. She can be reached at 312.214.4837 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Mariah Whitner is currently a third-year law student at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago, Illinois. At DePaul, she serves as the Managing Editor of Notes and Comments for the DePaul Law Review Vol. 69 and Vice President of the Student Bar Association. She can be reached at email@example.com.