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Contract Employer and Host Employers… Who is Responsible for Safety?

by Carl Potter, CSP

It used to be that corporations with high-risk (to employees) environments would hire a contractor to conduct work to reduce their exposure to increased injuries on certain jobs - those days are gone.  In today’s business environment it is everyone’s responsibility to identify, assess, and control hazards on the worksite.

Responsibility for safety is shared between the contract employer and the host employer.  When the host employer at a worksite communicates (transfers) information to the contract employer the expectation is that good information has been transferred and will be passed on to employees of the contract employer and their sub-contractors

A man’s got to know his limitations.  - Clint Eastwood in Magnum Force 

OSHA’s intent is to create a worksite where it is difficult to get hurt.  If a person knows what can hurt them, is trained in the proper mitigation procedure, and is willing to “do it”, nobody should get hurt.  The result is a safe and productive worksite.  So what could go wrong?

If the attitudes of the host employer is, “Oh, they are just contractors, we will tell them what we want them to know.”  Moreover, the contract employer says, “They hired us to get the job done no matter what happens.” And we have a disconnect.  For this reason, the host employer and the contract employer must have the same values, vision, and commitment to creating a safe work environment for everyone.

Much of my work is with many host employers who are some of the largest electric utilities in the United States.  I see first-hand how very different leader’s attitudes can be from front-line workers’.  Some understand the point of transferring good information and application.  On the other hand, some don’t quite get it.  The same can be said for contract employers that I have worked with too.  My work with these clients is to build a bridge of understanding through good communication.

Recently one of my host employer sites cancelled a rather large contract with a contract employer.  When the contract employer confronted the manager who cancelled the contract, they were told why.  Fortunately the host employer was led by a manager who said, “We really like your work except for your attitude toward safety and we are willing to work with you to get you back on the property.” 

The result was a partnership to improve the contractor’s safety performance.  In less than 6-months the contractor was back on the site and is now a partner in safety with shared values, vision, and commitment. 

The key is shared values, vision, and commitment.  If you as a contract employer, embrace safety as a value because you care about your people;  this means there may be host employers who you would rather not work with in the future.  Why? Because they don’t share the same value for safety.  However, many host employers already prepare to fire contract employers that do not share their safety philosophy.  As a contract employer or sub to such companies it is to your benefit as a business owner or leader to meet or exceed the values and vision of your host employers so that you can continually improve your organization’s safety culture.

Ref: OSHA - 1910.269(a)(3)

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Carl Potter is a Certified Safety Professional and Certified Management Consultant who worked for one of the largest electric utilities in the United States for 17 years as a power plant operator, and high-voltage electrical worker in transmission and distribution line and substation.  Since 1992 he has been working with organizations to help them improve their safety cultures through safety motivation and education.  He is a frequent keynote speaker for lineman rodeos, IBEW leadership meetings, and contractor safety conferences.  His latest book, Conquest for Safety: Leadership Required is available for purchase at: www.safetybooks.com

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