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Who’s Responsible for Safety on Construction Sites?

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Construction employers understand the benefits of providing a safe and secure environment for their workers. Employers that invest in workplace safety and health can expect to reduce illnesses, injuries and fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Creating a safe work environment also results in cost savings in a variety of areas, such as lowering insurance costs and medical expenses, avoiding Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties and reducing costs to train replacement employees and conduct accident investigations.

For employers, it’s a win-win. Changes made to improve safety and health on the job site result in significant improvements to their organization's productivity and financial performance, as well as a potential reduction in workers’ compensation insurance costs, says Aerotek Director Collyn Varnes, who specializes in the construction industry. “An additional bonus is that they’ll also build a reputation for being a workplace that values its employees, which is key to recruiting new employees in this challenging labor market.”

Who’s responsible?

Construction companies shoulder the responsibility for creating a safe and secure work environment for all employees on the job site, with measures in place to require proper equipment, prevent hazards such as falls or electrical shocks and to maintain a log of any injuries or illnesses — which is true whether the workers are permanent or contract employees. However, it’s crucial for construction companies to follow OSHA’s guidelines for managing temporary workers to avoid unnecessary risk, explains Tim Clark, Aerotek Environmental Health and Safety Controller.

To encourage the adoption of workplace safety best practices and standards and to foster and measure continuous safety improvements, Aerotek, as part of the American Staffing Association’s (ASA) Safety Committee, and in collaboration with the National Safety Council, developed the Safety Standard of Excellence program. In 2014, OSHA created a formal agreement to collaborate with the ASA on the Temporary Worker Initiative (TWI).

This partnership led OSHA to issue guidance to help employers understand their obligations, which explains, “Injuries and illnesses should be recorded on only one employer’s ‘OSHA 300’ injury and illness log... In most cases, the host employer is the one responsible for recording the injuries and illnesses of temporary workers.” The reasoning is that “Injury and illness recordkeeping responsibility is determined by supervision. Employers must record the injuries and illnesses of temporary workers if they supervise such workers on a day-to-day basis.”

The guidance also spells out additional responsibilities beyond recordkeeping. “In order to provide safe working conditions, information about injuries and illnesses should flow between the host employer and staffing agency… As a best practice, the staffing agency and host employer should establish notification procedures to ensure that when a worker informs one employer of an injury or illness, the other employer is apprised as well.”

Further, OSHA notes that “Employers cannot discharge or contract away responsibilities that pertain to them under law.”

Working in partnership

To be most effective, staffing companies should work closely with construction owners to determine the appropriate protective measures and ensure proper training so that they’re in compliance. “The staffing agency… should maintain frequent communication with its workers and the host employer to ensure that any injuries and illnesses are properly reported and recorded,” says OSHA. Ideally, the staffing company should have a health and safety group of its own. This is a clear signal that the staffing company prioritizes the safety of valued permanent and contract workers and minimizes the long-term financial risks for clients.

The risks of non-compliance are clear, according to Michael Milligan, Aerotek Regional Safety Manager. “Employers value their employees and their wellbeing — no one wants to see avoidable injuries happen on the worksite. Beyond the actual harm to workers, construction companies that have a strong safety culture are more attractive to job seekers.” And of course, there are the financial risks. OSHA conducted 32,023 federal inspections in fiscal year 2018, and current penalties are listed as $13,260 per violation, with additional fines assessed upon repeat infractions.

6 ways to mitigate risk

Here are six ways construction owners can reduce the risk of violating OSHA regulations governing contract employees:

  1. Talk to your staffing provider to ensure they’re clear on OSHA rules
  2. Closely review your contract to ensure health and safety is covered appropriately
  3. Ask if the provider has earned the ASA Safety Standard of Excellence Award
  4. Request a “safety walkthrough” of your job site by your staffing provider
  5. On your job site, make sure you offer contract employees the same safety training and document the training as your permanent employees
  6. Consistently maintain and update your OSHA 300 log

“Some companies may be unaware of their responsibility with regard to temporary employees, misunderstand the rules or have critical gaps in their knowledge on this subject,” explains Milligan. “A trustworthy recruitment partner, with extensive experience in mitigating health and safety risks, can be your largest ally in avoiding unnecessary legal exposure.”

Want to learn more about ensuring safety on construction sites? Contact Aerotek now.