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How to Prevent Contractor Accidents, Part 1

Using contractors is a cost-effective way to secure vital services. But it can create huge safety problems - especially when contractor personnel work at your facility. Maintaining a safe and healthy workplace for your own people is tough enough. It's a real challenge when your workplace is swarming with unfamiliar workers. This can be a surefire recipe for injuries and liability.

To control these risks you need to know at any given time which contractors are on your site and whether their safety training meets your expectations. This article will show you why it's so important to control these risks.

Company Blamed for Subcontractor's Injury
Here's a true story that shows what can happen when you don't keep track of the contractors who come to your site:

A manufacturer hired a maintenance contractor to do a service shut down at one of its plants. The contractor planned to house its workers in a 30-foot work trailer and hired a subcontractor to deliver the trailer to the plant site.

The subcontractor sent an 18-year-old student with little or no experience or training to deliver the trailer. When he got to the plant site, the driver parked the trailer near a leaky storage tank, stepped out and walked into a puddle of caustic soda mixed with melted snow. He suffered second and third degree burns on his feet and couldn't work for over a year.

The plant had an active safety program and provided training to its contractors. But the service contractor in this case never bothered to tell the plant's safety manager about the trailer arrangement with the subcontractor. Thus the safety manager didn't know that the trailer was coming or who would deliver it. When the driver got hurt, nobody at the plant (other than the contractor) had any idea who he was or what he was doing there. So there wasn't much the plant could do to protect him.

Even so, the plant ended up having to pay the driver's workers' compensation claim costs. OSHA also charged both the plant and the contractor with not taking every precaution reasonable to protect the driver, and imposed substantial fines.

3 Reasons to Keep Tabs on Contractors
There are three good reasons to keep track of the contractors who come to your site:

1. Contractors Are Especially Vulnerable

The challenge for safety managers is finding an effective way to extend the protections of their own safety programs to the workers of contractors who come to their workplace. Contractor personnel are unfamiliar with your machinery and work processes. You don't get to train them the way you do your own workers. They don't know their way around your site. They're apt to inadvertently work on energized equipment, improperly enter confined spaces or otherwise get into trouble. In short, they're especially vulnerable to accidents and need protection.

2. Contractors Put Your Own Workers at Risk

Having a contractor's workers on your site can compromise your safety program and put your own workers at risk. For example, contract workers who aren't familiar with your safety systems may inadvertently shut off or disable key controls, or start up processes or equipment. Workers unfamiliar with your workplace or process may accidentally cause a leak or spill or even start a fire or explosion. Since you don't hire them, you don't know if they're properly trained and safety conscious. And as if all this wasn't bad enough, as shown in the story above, contractors may bring their own subcontractors right into your workplace without your knowledge.

3. You Could Be Liable for Contractors' Injuries

You don't pay the contractor's workers; you don't file their workers' comp claims. But while they're on your site, you may be legally responsible for protecting them. The OSHA General Duty Clause (Section 5(a)(1) of the OSHA statute) requires employers to maintain a workplace that's "free from recognized hazards." OSHA has extended this and other parts of the OSHA law to contractors' workers where the employer controls the site where they work.

In addition, many OSHA standards specifically require employers to inform contractors of potential hazards and company safety policies. For example, the hazardous waste operations and emergency response standard requires employers to tell their "contractors, subcontractors or representatives of the site emergency response procedures and any potential fire, explosion, health, safety or other hazards of the hazardous waste operation that have been identified by the employer's information program." Failure to notify contractors and their personnel of hazards could make you liable for resulting injuries.

Point of Clarification
We're not saying that a company that hires a contractor is responsible for any and all accidents involving the contractor's workers, just that the company might have to protect those workers while they're on its site.