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Construction Depot

Safety and health newsletter for the Oregon construction industry

February 20, 2015

large construction site

Multi-employer worksites: General contractor responsibilities

This is the second in a series of short articles on general contractor and subcontractor relationships at multi-employer construction worksites. The first article, "Who is responsible for safety at a multi-employer construction site?" appeared in the October 2014 Construction Depot.

The general contractor at a multi-employer site has overall responsibility for the construction of the project. Although Oregon OSHA's steel erection rules [1926.751, Definitions] refer to general contractors as "controlling contractors" and Oregon OSHA's cranes and derricks rules [1926.1401, Definitions] use the term "controlling entity" but the responsibility is the same.

Also, by contracting for the full performance of a contract, the general contractor assumes all the employer responsibilities required by Oregon OSHA's construction rules, regardless of whether any of the work is subcontracted. When the work is subcontracted, the subcontractor and the general contractor have joint responsibility for ensuring the work is done safely.

Typically, the general contractor at a multi-employer site is also the controlling employer – an employer who has the right to exercise direct control over exposed employees' work practices and has the authority to abate hazards.

When an Oregon OSHA compliance officer finds employees exposed to a hazard at a multi-employer worksite, the compliance officer will try to determine which employers are responsible for the hazard. The key questions for the compliance officer are, "Which employers have knowledge of the hazard" and "Which employers have the right to exercise direct control over the exposed employees work practices."

Because the general contractor and a subcontractor share responsibility for ensuring work at the site is done safely, both employers could be cited for violations if the compliance officer determined that they knew about the hazard and did nothing to correct it. For example, if a compliance officer sees a subcontractor's employee working on a roof 15 feet above a lower level without fall protection (a violation), the general contractor and the subcontractor would be cited if the investigation determined that both employers knew about the violation but did nothing to correct it.

Rules and guidelines

In addition to any other Oregon OSHA rules that may apply at a multi-employer site, Oregon OSHA's General safety and health provisions [1926.20(b)] require all employers – general contractors and subcontractors – to follow four "accident prevention responsibilities" (paraphrased below):

  1. Initiate and maintain all safety and health programs necessary to comply with Oregon OSHA rules.
  2. Have designated competent persons do frequent and regular safety inspections of the site (including materials and equipment).
  3. Ensure that employees do not use equipment that is defective or not in compliance with Oregon OSHA's construction rules. Defective equipment must be locked out, tagged out, or removed from the site.
  4. Ensure that only employees qualified by training and experience operate equipment and machinery.

The following guidelines may also help general contractors establish their responsibilities at multi-employer sites. Note: These guidelines are not specifically required by any Oregon OSHA rules:


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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.