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Subcontractor Safety

LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

“General or prime contractors have to make sure their subcontractors perform quality work as well as get the job done on time,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck. “Of course, they also need to make sure they have a good safety program and are following it. Otherwise, hazardous situations arise on the site.”

How do you ensure subcontractors have established and implemented an effective safety program?

The first step is to prequalify subcontractors. If a contractor has a bad safety record, they should not be hired, just as you would not hire a contractor who does shoddy work or has a track record of late performance. Hiring just the lowest bid contractor invites trouble on your site. While OSHA has no requirement to prequalify subcontractors, 29 CFR 1926.16 (a) and (c) make it clear that prime contractors have some responsibility for subcontractor safety. As a result, prequalification is a best practice in today’s construction world.

How can you decide if a contractor has a bad safety record? Most contractors review the OSHA 300 log and the Experience Modification Rate (EMR) from the insurer to prequalify subcontractors; but that information is called a “lagging indicator.” It only shows past performance and may not be indicative of what the safety program is like today. Below are some useful “leading indicators” to use in prequalifying subcontractors:

  • Written plan: Many owners and contractors require the submission of a written safety and health plan and specific plans for hazards such as falls or trench safety (if the work involves such critical tasks). They also look for the assignment of “competent persons” to all such tasks. Do subcontractors have or use Job Safety Analyses to plan for safety in hazardous tasks?
  • Personnel: What safety personnel do subcontractors have on staff and will they have on site? What are their credentials?
  • Employee involvement: What plans do subcontractors have to actively involve employees in their safety efforts? Will they have a joint safety committee? How else will they encourage participation?
  • Safety training: What kind of safety training is required for employees? An OSHA 10-hour course/class at a minimum? What kind of safety training is required for supervisors? Many companies now require an OSHA 30-hour course/class. Some require supervisors to qualify as a “Safety Trained Supervisor.” The LIUNA Training and Education Fund and the LHSFNA have developed a curriculum for supervisors to teach safety skills, such as how to communicate effectively about safety.
  • Safety inspections: Will subcontractors have regular walk-throughs of the site with both project and field supervisors and employees?
  • Accident/Incident investigations: Does a subcontractor have a policy of investigating each incident to discover its root causes and learn from the results? Are the results widely distributed?

The second part of ensuring subcontractor safety is to hold subcontractors accountable. Once you have retained a subcontractor, you need to watch over them and make sure they live up to the commitments they made on paper. Meeting regularly with a subcontractor and reviewing their safety performance is essential. If they are not performing safely, they need to improve or be replaced.

By holding subcontractors to high standards, they will rise to the occasion if they want to get future work with you. Mentoring and teaching them how to perform safely may also help them win future jobs.

Safety is not a luxury. It is a necessity. Only by ensuring safety, not only among your own employees but those of your subcontractors as well, can you have a safe site.

[Scott Schneider is the LHSFNA’s Director of Occupational Safety and Health.]

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