Not all safety programs are created equal. Some companies keep it simple: they own the site, employ all the workers, and are solely responsible for ensuring safe work practices are followed. This contrasts starkly with multi-employer sites. Hazards and liabilities increase significantly, especially in situations when simultaneous work is conducted. The buck stops with the company that owns the site. Knowing where your company fits regarding safety obligations can mean the difference between providing a safe workplace or getting an unexpected citation.
What exactly is a multi-employer site? OSHA defines a multi-employer site as any site with more than one employer. On any given multi-employer site, the risk of accidents is increased by the various companies working, possibly simultaneously or on overlapping tasks. Here are a few useful definitions to help companies grasp liability on multi-employer sites:
- Controlling employer: The employer with supervisory authority over the worksite. This employer has the obligation to correct safety and health violations or require others to correct them. In general industry, the host employer is the controlling employer. In construction, this is the general contractor.
- Creating employer: This employer creates the hazardous condition.
- Exposing employer: The employer who exposes their own employees to a hazardous condition.
- Correcting employer: This employer is responsible for correcting the hazardous condition.
There are several multi-employer work sites in manufacturing and construction. Many specialized operations with skilled labor is contracted out to a third-party company. At many sites, there is an alarming trend that needs to be addressed. When there are third party companies working on the site, employees from the controlling employer are hesitant to say anything about safe working practices to contractors. They might see something unsafe, but turn the other way. When contractors are unsafe, controlling employers might think that the contractor is solely responsible for correcting the action. If the contractor’s employees get hurt, it’s 100% on them. Per OSHA, that’s not the case. Let’s look at hot work as an example:
Per OSHA, hot work is “any work that involves burning, welding, using fire- or spark-producing tools, or that produces a source of ignition.” Welding, a common hot work activity, is a contracted task. Welders that perform this hot work are a unique breed. They may not wear all the PPE, develop shortcuts to get their job done quicker, or walk through the site as they please. If there’s a quick, simple task, shortcuts to the standard are pretty much expected. However, letting these third parties be a “creating employer” for hazards puts everyone at risk.
Other employees in the immediate work area can be at risk, and the controlling employer can be held liable for not controlling the site in a safe manner. An example of this is welding where other employees can be exposed to the harmful light. Even if the welder wears a welding hood, exposure to the light must be controlled so other workers are not harmed.
OSHA requires controlling employers to exercise reasonable care at the worksite. Even if a controlling employer does not create the hazard, they can be cited by OSHA. If the controlling employer’s workers can be harmed from any hazard on the site, the controlling employer is now an exposing employer. This makes them citable for a hazard if certain criteria are met:
- The exposing employer must know the hazard or fail to exercise the diligence to discover the hazard.
- The exposing employer does not take the steps within their authority to protect their employees.
If the exposing employer does not have the authority to correct the hazard, they can still be cited if they fail to:
- Ask the creating or controlling employer to correct the hazard.
- Inform employees of the hazard.
- Take reasonable alternative measures to protect employees.
If there is a case of imminent danger, the exposing employer must remove their employees from the site to avoid the hazard. If they fail to do so, they can be cited for the exposure.
Remaining safe on a multi-employer site takes diligence. This topic, along with a range of other safety and health topics, are covered in OSHA Outreach training. Get the training you need online around a schedule that works for you. 360training.com is the premier provider of interactive, on-demand training for OSHA Outreach. Check out quality training today!