Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

October 16, 2014


Who is responsible for safety at a multi-employer construction site?

image of construction workers

This is the first in a series of short articles on general contractor and subcontractor relationships at multi-employer construction worksites.

The short answer is that all employers are responsible for safety at the site; they have obligations to their own employees and to the employees of other contractors. Some of those obligations are established in contracts between the contractors and some are set by the employer's responsibilities under the Oregon Safe Employment Act. It is worth noting that an employer cannot use the contract to transfer away the "safety portion" of its responsibilities for the work it performs.

You will find the key Oregon OSHA requirements in the Oregon Safe Employment Act and the Rules of Construction (1926.16) in Oregon OSHA's Division 3 construction standards.

Rules in the Oregon Safe Employment Act (654.010, 654.015, and 654.022) require all employers to furnish a safe place of employment and to "adopt and use such practices, means, methods, operations, and processes as are reasonably necessary" to keep it safe.

Oregon OSHA's Rules of Construction state the responsibilities of employers who establish their obligations under a contract. The rules say that while the general contractor may assume overall responsibility for work at the site and subcontractors assume responsibility for their portion of the work, both employers must follow Oregon OSHA's requirements.

How does Oregon OSHA determine which employers at a multi-employer site are responsible for hazards? Program Directive A-257 provides guidelines to compliance officers on how to issue citations. The key words for enforcement purposes are knowledge and control, which are defined in the directive:

Knowledge: "An employer … will be determined to have knowledge of the existence of a hazardous condition if the employer had actual knowledge or with the exercise of reasonable diligence could have known for a reasonable period of a condition or practice at the worksite that constituted a safety or health hazard."

Control: "An employer will be determined to have sufficient control to abate hazardous conditions on a multi-employer worksite when it either: (1) has a direct employment relationship with an employee exposed to the hazard; or (2) has the authority to direct, or actually directs, how other employers and/or their direct employees are to safely accomplish their specific job tasks." An employer does not have control if the employer did not create a hazard and did not know about the hazard for a reasonable period.

Employers may be cited if they have knowledge of the hazardous conditions at the site and exercise direct control – or have the right to exercise direct control – over the work practices of the exposed employees.

Oregon OSHA must establish that a recognizable hazard exists, that the employer knows about the hazard (or could have known through reasonable diligence), and that employees are exposed to the hazard.

Knowledge and control are also key to the three ways the directive classifies employers at a multi-employer site: creating, exposing, and controlling.

Creating employer: Any employer at a multi-employer worksite that creates a hazardous condition and:

There must also be a reasonable likelihood that employees could have been exposed to the hazardous conditions.

Exposing employer: Any employer at a multi-employer workplace that exposes employees to hazards and:

Controlling employer: Any employer at a multi-employer workplace that has sufficient control over the workplace to abate hazards and:

There must also be a reasonable likelihood that employees could have been exposed to the hazardous conditions.

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Reprinting, excerpting, or plagiarizing any part of this publication is fine with us!

But remember: the information in this newsletter is intended to highlight safe work practices, but it does not replace Oregon OSHA workplace safety and health rules.

For information about Oregon OSHA services and answers to technical questions, call (503) 378-3272 or toll-free within Oregon, (800) 922-2689.