For decades, both industry authorities and government authorities have been in agreement with regard to the steps that a general contractor should take in order to ensure that work performed on their behalf is done safely and in compliance with the U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA recognizes the need for the general contractor to take reasonable steps to ensure that their work is done safely and in compliance with their regulations by contractor and subcontractor workers. OSHA requires that all employers, general contractors, contractors and subcontractors employ OSHA-competent personnel to perform safety inspections as part of their safety program. On Aug. 31, 1995, OSHA gave clarification regarding Section 1926.32 addressing competent persons at construction sites. The following is excerpted from that interpretation:

A legal principle relevant is that … the general contractor normally has responsibility to assure that the other contractors fulfill their obligations with respect to employee safety which affect the entire site. The general contractor is well suited to obtain abatement of hazards, either through its own resources or through its supervisory roll with respect to other contractors. It is therefore reasonable to expect the general contractor to assure compliance with the standards insofar as all employees on the site are affected. Thus, we will hold the general contractor responsible for violations as could reasonably be expected to prevent or abate by reason of its superior capacity.

On the other hand, the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission also noted that the duty imposed on a general contractor is a reasonable one, and that the general contractor will not be held liable for violations which it could not reasonably be expected to detect or prevent.  In addition to whatever responsibility it may have as an exposing employer, the general contractor would also share responsibility for those violations by its subcontractors which it could reasonably have detected and have corrected. OSHA expects general contractors to take the steps necessary to satisfy themselves that subcontractors engage the involvement of competent persons, as well as a general inspection obligation.

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