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I have spent many years as the boss and fully realize how many critical items we are responsible for and how much attention that requires. Unfortunately, as the boss, you forget about your own personal safety. My No. 1 concern is for you, the contractor — for your safety and that of your managers and all your employees.

This short summary of the OSHA Act of 1970 clearly places the responsibility to provide a safe site for your workmen, yourself and any visitors, day and night (see the Williams-Steiger story below). In addition, you are required to pay all medical expenses.

When you are the subcontractor, you should carefully read your subcontract and negotiate any unfair liability. The construction manager or general contractor should have a safety director to police you and your workmen. It also may be responsible to pay any citations.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has many laws, citations and fines for contractors who are trying to protect their employees. Too many employees resist and maybe even resent having to follow the rules to protect themselves.

They use excuses such as, “It takes too much time,” and “It costs too much money,” to work safely. However, can you save enough time or money to justify a long hospital stay, being crippled or blinded for life, or funeral costs?

Consider the excuse for not complying in a hard-hat area, “This is just going to take a minute.” In that minute, even a small item of material dropped from 30 ft. in the air on top of a bare head could cause permanent damage, or at least a lengthy hospital or home recuperation.

OSHA fines have disturbed the construction industry but they never really took hold. It is not hard to find a plumber without a hard hat on most jobsites. Some of this is due to indifference on the part of the contractor, but mostly it is just a matter of poor discipline. Contractors have the right to punish and even fire employees who do not conform to their safety rules. Sadly, this threat is not too well-enforced.

Each state can add to and vary its enforcement of the rules. Some states require that any employee who is injured and tests positive for drugs or alcohol will automatically lose all his worker’s compensation benefits. Or an employee who was not wearing the proper personal protective equipment when he was injured will lose 25% of his benefits.

Many employees are not aware of these punitive measures but ignorance of the law is no excuse.


Employer’s responsibilities

Of course, you, the contractor, must do your part. 

  • Every foreman is required to attend the OSHA safety training course. This information should also be passed on to the foreman’s employees.
  • Each foreman should have a copy of OSHA’s rule book. I also recommend the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors’ safety manual for foremen, as well as its employee manual. I particularly like the check list.
  • Your employees need to know and understand OSHA’s guidelines for personal protection equipment, fall protection, excavations, ladder safety, hand and power tools, welding and cutting, scaffolding, material handling and hazard communication.
  • Hard-hat areas must be posted with signs and warning tape must enclose excavations or dangerous areas.
  • All employees should know where the first-aid kits and Material Safety Data Sheets are kept.
  • Forklift operators must have a certificate of training, with a renewal every three years.

What happens on your jobsite during evenings and weekends, when your crews are not around? Insurance companies and the courts classify your jobsite as an “attractive nuisance.”

Before your foreman goes home, he should walk that entire site and ponder the question: “What would my seven-year-old son/grandson get into on this jobsite tonight?”

Open trenches, unsafe racks of pipe, dangerous equipment, inviting ladders, missing railings or volatile chemicals could cost the life of a child — and your company’s future.

Your jobsites are dangerous. Treat them with respect and follow the rules.


The Williams-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

AN ACT: To assure safe and healthful working conditions for working men and women; by authorizing enforcement of the standards developed under the Act; by assisting and encouraging the states in their efforts to assure safe and healthful working conditions; by providing for research, information, education and training in the field of occupational safety and health; and for other purposes...


(a) Each Employer

(I) shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;

(2) shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.

(b) Each Employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.


What is OSHA’s general duty clause?

Section 5(a)(1) of the William-Steiger Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 has become known as “The General Duty Clause.” It is a catchall for citations if OSHA identifies unsafe conditions to which a regulation does not exist.

In practice, OSHA, court precedent and the review commission have established that if the following elements are present, a general duty clause citation may be issued.

  1. The employer failed to keep the workplace free of a hazard to which employees of that employer were exposed.
  2. The hazard was recognized. (Examples might include: through your safety personnel, employees, organization, trade organization or industry customs.)
  3. The hazard was causing or was likely to cause death or serious physical harm.
  4. There was a feasible and useful method to correct the hazard.