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October 22, 2013
OSHA cites 6 employers at power plant construction site: Tips for safe multi-employer projects
By Emily Scace, Senior Editor, Safety

In New Hampshire, OSHA cited six different employers involved in a power plant construction project with a total of 31 violations and $280,000 in combined fines when it uncovered hazards at the site including cave-in dangers, exposure to falls of up to 100 feet, lead exposure, and more.

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Though the site in question was located in New Hampshire, the employers included companies based in 5 different states. The project’s general contractor, an Ohio-based company, was fined a total of $116,280, while the five subcontractors face penalties ranging from $5,000 to $85,000.

According to OSHA, the general contractor exposed one of its workers to lead by allowing the worker to wear a tight-fitting respirator over facial hair while removing lead-containing paint. Facial hair can prevent a respirator from sealing properly, thus leaving its wearer exposed to the airborne hazards it is designed to protect from.

OSHA classified this as a willful violation, carrying a fine of $49,500. The general contractor was also cited for allowing workers to be close to an energized electrical panel, uncovered and unlabeled floor holes, unguarded machines, defective rigging equipment, and more.

Two additional willful violations at the site, this time issued to subcontractors, stemmed from two excavations that lacked cave-in protection and an inadequately braced scaffold. These carried fines of $70,000 and $44,000, respectively. Subcontractors were also cited for electrical hazards, not ensuring that employees wore personal protective equipment (PPE), failing to protect employees from falling objects, and more.

Rosemarie Ohar, OSHA’s area director for New Hampshire, commented, “While it is fortunate no one was killed or seriously injured, worker safety cannot and must never be left to chance.”

Contractor safety considerations

So how should companies at multi-employer worksites avoid citations and fines like these? The first step to ensuring that “multi-employer” isn’t synonymous with “multiple accidents” is to implement a set of sitewide safety procedures that all workers must adhere to, regardless of who signs their paychecks. When safety-related practices visibly vary from one employer at a jobsite to another, it can generate employee confusion about which procedures to follow and resentment that different groups appear to be subject to different rules.

In addition, every employer at a worksite needs to take responsibility for safety. Before beginning work, all parties should agree on how they will coordinate their safety efforts. Who will provide training? Who will pay for personal protective equipment (PPE)? Which employer will be responsible for disciplining employees who don’t follow the rules? The specifics of the agreement will depend on the type of work being performed and each employer’s role in the project, but the end result should be a system that ensures that nothing will fall between the cracks.

The following are some more tips for ensuring a safe workplace when contractors are involved:

  • Ensure that employees, not just managers, take responsibility for safety by empowering all workers to halt work if they believe something is unsafe. Particularly at complicated sites where many types of work are being performed, having as many people as possible pay attention to safety-related conditions can help prevent accidents.
  • When hiring a contractor, make safety compliance a condition of employment. Review potential contractors’ safety systems and records to determine how well they match with yours, and address any inconsistencies before beginning a project.
  • Generally, OSHA considers contractors to be responsible for ensuring that its employees know how to do their jobs safely and host employers to be responsible for informing the contractor of any hazardous conditions specific to the worksite. Use this rule of thumb as a starting point for developing an agreement at a multi-employer worksite that assigns responsibility for different elements of a safety system appropriately.
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