In the past, general contractors were lead to believe that they couldn’t be cited for working with a subcontractor who violated safety regulations. However, a recent ruling by the U.S. Appeals Court judge for the 5th Circuit in New Orleans has reversed decisions linked to as recently as 2017. Now, contractors must change the way they think about their relationships with subcontractors. In this short brief, the Central FL contractor lawyers at Cotney Construction Law will discuss this court ruling and explain how it affects contractors working in the United States.
General Contractors Beware
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) used to pursue subcontractors who violated safety rules and regulations, but a new ruling has opened the door for OSHA to cite general contractors who work with subcontractors who have violated these rules—even in instances where the general contractor’s employees were unharmed or unaffected. The ruling was a result of Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta’s request to have the 5th Circuit review an OSHA administrative court decision that previously stated that a general contractor was only liable for citations related to their own employees’ safety.
Formerly, the reverse of this decision was considered standard practice. In 2017, a Denver Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Commission administrative judge ruled that the general contractor Hensel Phelps could not be cited for safety violations committed by one of its subcontractors. However, this decision has been rendered obsolete by the 5th Circuit decision, and now Hensel Phelps could retroactively be held responsible for the safety of all workers on a project site if designated a “controlling employer.”
Disregard Leads to Death
There was a time when workers were expected to contend with the dangers of construction work on their own. It was considered “part of the job” and there were very few resources to assist an injured worker. While that is no longer the case, and contractor liability is nothing new, this new ruling aims to bolster safety on the project site even more. Authorities are now more likely to pursue criminal charges against the general contractor. For example, one general contractor of a San Francisco construction company was charged with felony involuntary manslaughter for allowing an untrained worker to drive a steamroller while on the project site. The worker accidentally crushed another worker. In another incident, a construction company in New York plead guilty to second-degree manslaughter after one of their workers fell to their death in 2017 while a crew attempted to move a construction platform using a crane. The deceased fell 29 stories to their death after removing his safety harness to help free the platform.
Now that general contractors can be cited for subcontractor violations, it’s more important than ever to partner with a Central FL construction lawyer to ensure that you are following all necessary OSHA rules and guidelines.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this article is for general educational information only. This information does not constitute legal advice, is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor should it be relied upon as legal advice for your specific factual pattern or situation.