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What Establishes the Standards and Expectations for Safety on a Construction Job

What Establishes the Standards and Expectations for Safety on a Construction Job

A review of the General Contractor’s background and a look at the sources that establish the conduct of a General Contractor on a construction job site

In any case, regardless of its complexity, as the injured person’s advocate, your lawyer must know the background of the General Contractor.  When was the company established? Does it specialize in the type of project, for example a commercial building, involved in the client’s accident? How many employees does it have? How many projects has it handled and across how many states?

As discussed in the last blog, the face of the project is the Project Superintendent or Project Manager.  Often, he/she is the only representative of the General Contractor on the site.  What is his/her background? And how does it compare to the other Project Managers or Project Superintendents employed by the General Contractor?

An informed review of the defendant’s background is important.  But where do we learn about the specifics of the conduct that is expected?  The following are sources that your construction accident attorney should use to make a thorough presentation of this issue:

  • The American Institute of Architect contract
  • The Owner’s Facilities Safety Agreement or some facsimile
  • The General Contractor’s safety manual
  • OSHA provisions
  • Good industry practice

Let’s run through the bullet points in the above in a little more detail.

The American Institute of Architects provisions are contained in a contract, the Standard Form of Agreement Between Owner and General Contractor. They set out obligations with respect to safety on the part of the General Contractor, including the duty of “initiating, maintaining and supervising safety.” That phrase is in the contract and it is powerful.

In a Facilities Safety Agreement signed by the Owner and GC, the Owner may emphasize that they expected the most stringent safety regulations possible to be utilized on the jobsite. Maybe their regulations even exceed OSHA regulations. Great. The more stringent rules will take precedence.

As if that weren’t enough, the Owner’s witnesses should testify that the GC was “the single source of responsibility.” The GC would have acquiesced to that standard; not agreeing to them means not getting the job.

Corporation Project Safety Manual:  It is not uncommon to find great language in a company’s manual. For example: “Safety ultimately ends up with us”; “One lax moment in terms of safety may result in a lifetime of needless pain and suffering. Disregarding safety standards may even be fatal.”

Good industry practice: It is common knowledge in the construction industry that the General Contractor is responsible for safety.  In some circumstances, a level of oversight is expected even greater than would normally be the case:

  • The subcontractor had never worked with the GC on a project;
  • There has been no paperwork produced by the GC demonstrating what information they used to “vet” this subcontractor;
  • A simple internet search of less than a minute on the OSHA website would reveal that a subcontractor was (or was not) cited for violations, including ones that are very relevant to the issues involved in the case.

Testimony will be that the level of oversight by the superintendent should be commensurate with the superintendent’s knowledge of the subcontractor’s history, including of course that subcontractor’s safety record. That is good common sense. But it is not simply common sense.  That expectation is contained in OSHA publications on multi-employer responsibility. That makes this even more powerful.

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