Although the chance of being visited by an OSHA inspector is about one in 15, (based on 1999 Census estimates of firms with more than 10 employees) it may be time to invest in learning your OHSA ABCs and XYZs. The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Public Law 91-596) placed responsibility for the safety and health of all American workers squarely on the shoulders of their employers. Detailed regulations for electrical contractors are spelled out in sections 1910 and 1926 of OSHA regulations.

Unfortunately, some electrical contractors may not be aware of their responsibility for training all qualified workers under the law. Since an unexpected inspection and citation could harm your business, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Did you know, for example, that on a construction site where there are several subcontractors to a general contractor, design-builder, or even the owner, each employer is responsible separately for OSHA compliance without regard to the contractual duties that may be specified for job-site safety and health? In other words, if your employee falls through an unprotected hole, you, Mr. or Ms. Electrical Contractor, are responsible under the federal law. State laws could apply additional personal liability to your supervisors as well.

Although more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA regulation, “the extent of the measures that a controlling employer [general contractor] must take to satisfy its duty to exercise reasonable care to prevent and detect violations is less than what is required of an [exposing] employer [electrical contractor] with respect to protecting its own employees ... If the exposing employer lacks the authority to correct the hazard, it is citable if it fails to do each of the following: (1) ask the creating and/or controlling employer to correct the hazard; (2) inform its employees of the hazard; and (3) take reasonable alternative protective measures.”

Here is an example situation paraphrased from the OSHA Multi-Employer Citation Policy CPL 2-0.124 Dated 12/10/1999: Employer [EC] is responsible for inspecting and testing in a work area in Plant P around a large, permanent hole. An OSHA standard requires guardrails. There are no guardrails around the hole and the employees do not use personal fall protection, although it would be feasible to do so. The employer [EC] has no authority under its contract to install guardrails. However, its site foreman did ask Employer P, which operates the plant, to install them, but Employer P refused to install guardrails. The first step is to determine whether the employer [EC] is a creating, exposing, correcting or controlling employer. Step Two is to determine if the employer’s actions were sufficient to meet its obligations for employee safety.

OSHA Analysis: Step 1: [EC] is an exposing employer because its employees are exposed to the fall hazard. Step 2: While [EC] has no authority under contract with Plant P to install guardrails, it is required to comply with OSHA requirements to the extent feasible. It must take steps to protect its employees and ask the employer that controls the hazard—Plant P—to correct it. Although [EC] asked for guardrails, since the hazard was not corrected, [EC] was responsible for taking reasonable alternative protective steps, such as providing personal fall protection. Because that was not done, [EC] is citable for the violation.

To help protect your firm from such risks, OHSA offers a string of applicable training courses. OSHA compliance training also has become quite a business, with numerous private providers offering safety courses. Construction trade associations also include OSHA training in their member services, so check with your chapter office to see what is offered. Typing “osha compliance training electrical contracting” into an Internet search engine netted 3,420 sites by independent consultants to explore.

I looked up all the compliance training offered by OSHA itself. I figured if they offered them, the courses must be important. Courses range from Indoor Air Quality to Occupational Safety and Health Standards for the Construction Industry and a Trainer Course in Occupational Safety and Health Standards for the Construction Industry.You can pick the topics most appropriate to your business and search more specifically for the best source of training for your project managers and field foreman about their duties and obligations to protect employees. You can find complete course descriptions and schedules under “Training” at www.osha.gov. EC

TAGLIAFERRE is proprietor of C-E-C Group. Phone 703-321-9268 or e-mail lewtag@aol.com.