Keeping Everyone in the Loop: Understanding host employer/contractor information transfer

By Chuck Kelly | May 15, 2021
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As the safety leader of your organization, understanding the Host Employer/Contractor Information Transfer requirements of 29 CFR 1910.269 is critical to maintaining a safe work environment for your employees. OSHA experts believe that one contributing factor to many injuries occurring in the electrical contracting industry was a lack of critical information being transferred from the “host employer” to the “hired contractor.” Information transfer was a key focus area in the final revision to OSHA’s Electric Power Generation, Transmission and Distribution Standard in April 2014.

OSHA goes into great detail as to the responsibilities of the “host” and “contractor,” with more emphasis placed on the host’s responsibilities. The host is responsible for  four main categories: 1) existing conditions, which is defined as static information known by the host; 2) known conditions, or information that the host has regarding specific conditions relevant to the contractor’s work; 3) assessment information, or data that the contractor may need to determine minimum approach distances (MADs) and flame-resistant (FR) clothing, for example; and 4) requested information about the job that the host possesses and is requested by the contractor.

Regarding assessment information and requested information, a prime example would be maximum incident energy on a specific line the contractor may be working on. This information enables the contractor to plan the job using the host employer’s calculations and eliminates the need to do their own calculations. This is important because a lot of contractors do not have either the capability to perform those calculations within the contract’s time parameters or the staff to do them. That said, OSHA has allowed these calculations to be used in the information transfer phase and the contractor would be in compliance with the section of 1910.269 requiring the need to calculate incident energy before commencing work. 

OSHA’s main objective in the transfer of information section is to ensure that there is communication between the host and the contractor concerning the job, which can be communicated in several ways. The host can provide this information verbally, electronically by email, text or fax or by providing formal documents developed by the host. The host and contractor also should discuss the process needed for information transfer in emergency or short-turnaround projects. All too often, there is a potential for information to not be communicated due to timing. It is important that the contractor make sure to ask for the information necessary to perform the job safely, regardless of the time issues involved. Should the contractor ask for the information and not receive it, they should document the request in writing, including the time and date and to whom they made the request. The contractor will then have to determine if the information provided allows them to perform their duties safely. If not, the work should not commence until such time as all the necessary information is received. 

It is also important to know that OSHA does not expect or require the contractor to verify that the information received is accurate. OSHA assumes that there is a reasonable expectation that the information provided by the host is accurate based on the fact that the contractor will be working on the host's system.

The host’s responsibilities

Familiarizing yourself with the requirements that the host is responsible for enables you, as the contractor, to be prepared if the host has not provided information. 

Existing conditions: Some of the most significant areas of the host’s responsibilities are centered on voltage. The host is required to give you information on nominal, transient and induced voltage. Having this information allows you to properly plan the job and take the necessary safety steps to protect your workers. The host is also required to advise the electrical contractor of the presence of grounds and the locations of circuits and equipment. You should also ask for the maximum transient overvoltage that the company has experienced over time. This can assist you in anticipating any spikes from external sources. 

Known conditions: Before the contractor begins the work, the host must provide information regarding any known conditions related to the safety of the work to be performed. For example, the host would know the conditions of the ground at the work site and of the poles (should the work involve any transmission and distribution operations), as well as any environmental conditions relating to the safety of electrical equipment. The host is only required to provide information that they have in their existing records. Should the host not have a particular piece of information that the contractor may need, the host would not be required to develop new information. The contractor can choose to obtain this information, but is also not required to do so.  

Assessment information: The host employer must provide the needed information to establish MADs and FR clothing. The contractor is permitted to use the data provided by the host to determine their MAD and FR requirements without having to make their own assessments. 

This is important to know, as some OSHA inspectors have indicated that the contractor has to do their own assessment. This is clearly wrong and has been addressed in the OSHA final rule of 29 CFR 1910.269 section in Q&A #18, which states that contractors can use the assessments provided by the host, as long as those estimates are valid for all the working conditions to which the contractor’s employees will be exposed. To alleviate any confusion, some host companies are providing data that uses the maximum incident energy exposure that a contractor’s employees could be exposed to, thus allowing for added protection factors. 

Requested information: This requirement covers any other information about the design and operation of the host’s installation that is known to the host, requested by the contractor and related to the safety of the contracted employees. This could include information pertaining to other crews working in the vicinity or scheduled activities that would impact the work area.

The contractor’s responsibilities 

Let’s now take a look at the contractor’s responsibility under the information transfer requirement. Contractors are required to inform the host of any unique hazardous conditions presented by the work to be done, as well as any unanticipated hazardous conditions found during the work. These unanticipated hazardous conditions must be reported to the host within 48 hours of discovery. 

Unique hazardous conditions are those that are most likely communicated before the work is performed. For example, if you are a contractor involved in the cleanup of a power plant during a shutdown, there is a high likelihood that your employees may be exposed to fly ash and other dust particles. The host would be required to inform you of this prior to work beginning. Conversely, if you are working on an outside project, there may be information needed to advise you of specific hazards in the area of work, such as structural instability or ground surface issues. 

Unanticipated hazards may come up during the course of the contractor’s work. For example, the contractor might discover a sinkhole near the work area, or a rotted utility pole that had previously gone undetected. Acceptable methods of communicating this information are similar to the host’s requirements—you may relay the discovered information verbally or using text, fax or email. (It’s important to note that the contractor is only required to notify the host of any unique or unanticipated hazard that they are trained to identify.) 

Additional considerations for information transfer 

Another area OSHA covers in the information transfer section is the coordination of work rules and procedures to protect employees of both parties. While this is a new provision in the 1910.269 standard, it is not new to OSHA rules. The existing lockout/tagout and permit required confined space standards also require this type of coordination. Both parties can address these issues during the bid or orientation process prior to work being awarded or commencing. 

Other things to consider in the information transfer area when you are the contractor is the hiring of a subcontractor to do some of the work—but who is responsible for getting the information to that sub? Ultimately, OSHA will hold the host responsible for ensuring that information gets transferred. However, from a practical standpoint, you can be sure that the host will include language in the contract that covers your responsibility as the contractor to inform any and all subcontractors of the necessary information to complete the job safely. 

As the safety leader in an electrical contracting firm, no aspect of your job is more important than maintain the necessary level of safety needed to protect your employees. Communication between the host employer and the contractor ensured that safety.  

About The Author

KELLY, president of Kelly Consulting & Mediation Services, has worked with utility industry leaders on safety, labor relations and human resources for more than 30 years. Reach him at 540-686-0118 or [email protected].





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