Ask the Expert, Personnel Safety

Ask the Expert: Enforcing Safety Rules and Requirements With Contractors

In our latest installment of Ask the Expert, brought to you by the team of industry experts at EHS Hero®, we look at a recent question from a subscriber asking about enforcing safety rules and requirements with contractors. See what the experts had to say.

Q: Can we or should we enforce our safety rules/manual/requirements with contractors? The question arose as to whether or not we should be making them wear hard hats, safety vests, etc. Should they be adhering to our requirements, or their own? We also wanted to check because of liability issues. Should/could we add language in their contract regarding safety? 

Employers that hire contractors should communicate and coordinate with the contractor regarding safety and health protocols. Ideally, when choosing a contractor, the contractor’s safety policies and performance would be one of the criteria upon which the employer bases its selection. In addition, safety requirements can absolutely be incorporated into contractual language and made a condition of performing work for an employer. 

In coordinating safety policies between contractors and a hiring employer, a best practice is to consider the hazards each party is in the best position to prevent and correct. A hiring employer such as a municipality may have general safety policies regarding, for example, the use of PPE or the provision of safety training that it requires all contractors to follow. For certain specific hazards and activities, the contractor may be in the best position to develop the detailed safety policies and protocols its employees will follow, but the hiring employer may still set parameters and requirements for these policies. In addition, the parties must communicate regarding any hazards each other’s employees may be exposed to on the job. For example, the hiring employer must inform the contractor of any hazardous conditions in its facilities, while the contractor must inform the hiring employer of any hazards its activities may create for other employees in the vicinity. 

OSHA can and does cite employers that hire contractors when the contractor’s employees are exposed to hazards on the job of which the hiring employer knew or should have known. For the purposes of liability for safety violations, OSHA divides contractors into four categories: creating employers (the employer that created a hazard), exposing employers (the employer whose employees were exposed to a hazard), correcting employers (the employer in a position to prevent or correct a hazard), and controlling employers (the employer with general safety and health authority over a worksite or facility). An employer may fall into more than one category, and liability can attach to each, depending on the particulars of the hazards and the employees exposed. Refer to OSHA’s Multi-Employer Citation Policy for more information.  

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