Avoiding Liability: Safety on the Job Site

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Every builder knows that safety must be paramount in every job. The only successful building projects are those that are completed without a serious injury or fatality. Contractors add to that definition of success that successful builds also avoid OSHA citations and the fines that they carry.

Some builders, general contractors, invest time and money into their safety programs to ensure that they are doing everything possible to avoid an injury. Regrettably, some general contractors take the position that it will never happen to them, they’ve never seen OSHA, and so it’s worth the risk just to put their employees to work in an unsafe manner with unsafe equipment. How does this affect the homeowner? This article will discuss the liability that a homeowner has when their general contractor has decided that safety is a low priority. It will also discuss the things that a homeowner can do and watch for to reduce their own liability.

Many people would agree that America has become a litigious society. Often, it seems that everyone is waiting for that one opportunity to file a lawsuit against someone and get rich quick. Unfortunately, one of the available targets of such thinking is the homeowner in any building project. Many people think that the general contractor bears complete liability in the event of an injury or death on the job site; however, this is not true. Colorado, like most states, will allow an injured employee of the general contractor or the surviving spouse or children in the event of a fatality, to go after the homeowner. The argument is typically that the homeowner knew that the general contractor and its employees were taking shortcuts around safety, that the homeowner should have insisted on safety on the job site, and because the homeowner failed to act he or she is liable for the injury or death that occurred. For homeowners who are more active in the building process, this is especially true. So, one serious injury or a fatality can turn a home building project into a catastrophe.

So,what is a homeowner to do? How does the homeowner keep a check on the general contractor they’ve hired to ensure that the building project is also a safe project? Arguably, the best way for a homeowner to protect himself/herself is to be educated about the most prevalent safety violations on any building site and to be vigilant in looking to ensure that these violations are not occurring. This doesn’t mean that the homeowner should be on the job site every day with a hard hat and safety vest inspecting the general contractor’s crews; however, occasional site visits are prudent. What should the homeowner look for? Here is a brief summary: Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Personal protective equipment includes hardhats, safety glasses, earplugs, reflective shirts or vests, gloves, and work boots. If the homeowner should see employees working on the job site without PPE, the homeowner would be advised to immediately speak to the general contractor, typically through the superintendent on site, and ask that he or she ensure that the employees are wearing the appropriate PPE at all times. If the homeowner takes this step, it is also a good idea to document that this was done, including with whom the homeowner spoke as well as the date of the conversation.

Regrettably, falls continue to be a major source of injuries and fatalities on job sites in the United States. For construction workers who are working above 6 feet, the law requires that they use an appropriate fall protection system. Typically, employees will wear a harness that is attached to a lanyard which in turn is attached to an anchor point. In the event the employee should slip and fall, the fall protection system will prevent a fall of greater than 6 feet. Fall protection systems prevent injuries and save lives every day.

Although there are literally thousands of pages of regulations pertaining to construction site safety, homeowners who monitor PPE and the usage and fall protection will help ensure the safety of employees on the job site as well as help avoid liability on their part. Perhaps most important, a homeowner who works closely with the general contractor on safety helps to ensure that the build is not only successful but is also accident free.

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