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Your Subcontractors Can Trigger An OSHA Citation & Fine For You

Posted by Mark Paskell on Sat, Apr 05, 2014 @ 06:25 PM

General Contractors, Remodelers, Sole Proprietors and Construction Managers who hire unsafe subcontractors to work on their jobs run the risk of OSHA inspections and fines. Under the OSHA Multi-Employer Citation Policy the controlling contractor can be cited and fined if a hired subcontractor creates unsafe work conditions for his workers and others on the job site.

This obscure OSHA enforcement tool is not well known to contractors. With significant OSHA focus on the residential construction industry and lack of training, most contractors are sitting ducks for citations and fines under this policy. The most cited violations in recent months are for failure to provide fall protection  equipment and training for workers.

Let's look at an example residential project of how a remodeling contractor may be at risk for citations and fines under this policy when using an unsafe subcontractor. 

Remodeling Project Example: (for illustration purposes)

Boston KBA Remodeling Company (could be a sole proprietor or a 10 person company) is hired by a homeowner in Andover, Massachusetts to build a two story addition with a kitchen and master suite. KBA Remodeling will use AAA Roofing to do the roof, BBB Siding to install cedar siding, CCC Painting to paint the house, DDD Framing for the frame and EEE Electrical for electrical work. KBA Remodeling will be the project manager and perform the carpentry on the interior.


  • AAA Roofing does the roof and does not use fall protection such as harnesses or guard rails when working 6 feet or more above lower level. (Violation OSHA Standard; Subpart M)
  • BBB Siding does the cedar siding off ladders with brackets and planks with half the work over 10 feet and no fall protection. (Violation OSHA Standard Scaffolding; Subpart L)
  • CCC Painting paints off of ladders but walks on adjacent roofs with no fall protection. (Violation OSHA Standard; Subpart M)
  • DDD Framing uses ladders to get up on the working levels with a ladder that is not three feet above the landing surface and is not tied off. The framers are walking top plates and installing plywood with no fall protection. (Violations OSHA Standards Subpart M, Subpart X Ladders)
  • EEE Electrical removes the electrical service breaker box cover and leaves the cover off until the service is upgraded. During the project the use of saws and heavy equipment trip the breakers requiring each trade to reset them several times a day with the cover off. (Violation Subpart K Electrical)

Usually the sub will be cited and fined and then the question is what did the General Contractor do to make sure that the subcontractors work safe?

If you did nothing you likely will be cited and fined. However, if you can show (through documentation and reasonable effort) that you made reasonable attempts to require safe work on your site you may avoid citations and fines.

Here are some steps to protect yourself when you are the prime and controlling contractor;

  1. Before hiring your subs look into to their safety record and performance. A poor safety record requires strong oversight, a great safety record less.
  2. Require proof of their safety program and policies, written plans and that they are current.
  3. Require proof of certified training for each employee working for your sub on your project.
  4. Use a subcontract agreement to limit your responsibility/risk and require that the sub is responsible to correct hazardous conditions immediately before workers are exposed. If correction is not possible the sub must prevent workers from working in/with/near the hazard and notify you immediately.
  5. Create an inspection process in writing and routinely visit the project to detect safety practice or or non-practice. Document all visits and take pictures of your visit and upload to a web based file with time stamp.
  6. Require in writing that the subcontractors must notify you immediately if someone is injured or killed and if any corrective actions are taken to remove hazards. Require the subcontractor to maintain and report the same.
  7. Have a clause in your sub contractor agreement that states if the subcontractor, after being asked to correct unsafe conditions refuses to do so, they will be removed from the job site. Note that this may or may not result in back charging or forfeiture of payments.

Lastly if you do not want to have OSHA pay you a visit and fine you because of your subs, don't hire subs who refuse to work safe on your projects. In my last post I wrote about how site visits are placed on the OSHA website.

Using An unsafe roofer, framer, painter, sider or other sub on your job site is like posting a sign that says...


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Tags: osha inspections