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Contractors Liable for Subcontractors’ Violations

General contractors may be liable for their subcontractors’ violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

R.P. Carbone Construction (RPC), a general contractor constructing a recreation center, hired CommSteel as a subcontractor to perform the project’s steel erection work. An OSHA inspector determined that CommSteel had failed to provide its employees with fall-protection equipment for workers operating more than 25 feet above ground in violation of applicable OSHA regulations. A penalty and fine of $1,500 were assessed against RPC because it could have detected and corrected the violation, but did not.

In affirming the administrative law judge’s decision, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that RPC was liable for the subcontractor’s violations because: One, RPC failed initially to review CommSteel’s safety program; Two, RPC didn’t ensure the program was in place during the first two weeks; and Three, the violations were in plain view of RPC’s project superintendent who was on the site twice daily. R.P. Carbone Construction Co. vs. OSHRC, 6th Cir., No. 97-3427, 11/16/98.

General contractors must be aware of OSHA requirements and the safety programs of their subcontractors.

Source: D. Diane Hatch, a Human Resources consultant based in San Francisco, and James E. Hall, an attorney with Barlow, Kobata & Denis, based in Chicago and Los Angeles, December 21, 1998.