Working Safely Together: Multi-Employer Work Site Safety

0819 Safety Image Credit: shutterstock / fongbeerredhot / yongyot therdthai
Image Credit: Shutterstock / fongbeerredhot / yongyot therdthai

Multi-employer work sites can be a challenging environment from a safety standpoint. At any given moment, a variety of specialty and subcontractors could be working at one location. These may range from demolition contractors and electricians to general construction workers and others. Each profession has its own unique safety hazards. As a result, ensuring everyone on the job site is safe can be a difficult task.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has some stringent regulations pertaining to safety and responsibility on multi-employer work sites. They are applicable to the project owner, engineers, architects, subcontractors and other consultants. Site safety should be spelled out in contracts. Usually, general contractors are responsible for overall project safety and providing basic orientation training on site-specific hazards.

Subcontractors are responsible for hazards associated with their work and must determine their own means, methods and safety practices of the specialty trade. For example, when conducting demolition work, all workers must be familiar with the structural composition of the building or object to prevent collapse. GCs need to ensure subcontractors on the work site are familiar with and protected from hazards, such as lead paint, asbestos and crystalline silica. Those subcontractors, in turn, must protect their own employees. It is also imperative to do a thorough, expedient cleanup of the hazardous materials and any debris or dust that could result in a slip, trip or fall. The contract needs to spell out who performs these housekeeping duties. Regardless, OSHA will assign blame to those who create, control or expose their employees to a hazard.

With temporary power—a common need on many multi-employer work sites—electrical contractors are a “creating” entity. It’s the ECs’ responsibility to establish and maintain power and create a safe environment. ECs must communicate to the general contractor any special conditions or requirements. These may include determining applicable codes, power requirements and proper materials for the installation environment. A common issue OSHA often points to is the use of indoor-rated cable for temporary power. Equipment rated for outdoor exposure must be used to protect against weather and other corrosive influences.

Another issue is the requirement for ECs to install equipment in protected locations or enclosures rated for the environment and to ensure all openings are covered or closed. Panelboard, disconnect and breaker openings need to be shut as well. Warning signs must be used to protect other contractors. Cables that are improperly marked can result in serious hazards to unaware workers.

Access to these areas must be limited to authorized personnel. Make sure extension cords that are exposed to the elements are rated for conditions and use. Ground fault protection or an Assured Equipment Grounding Conductor Program (AEGCP) must be applied to ensure the safety of temporary cords, receptacles and portable tools. Adequate lighting and individual circuits for specialty tools are also crucial.

Temporary wiring must be designed and installed by qualified and authorized individuals according to OSHA, National Electrical Code and the National Fire Protection Association 70E requirements. Additionally, when installing permanent wiring or lighting, it is imperative to adhere to all safety practices and lockout/tagout protocols outlined in NFPA 70E.

While attention to electrical hazards is a great focus, ECs can’t lose sight of other hazards they may create or be exposed to by others. Struck-by injuries are among the most frequent occupational injuries on multi-employer work sites. It is important that workers are familiar with common struck-by hazards and what to do to protect themselves.

OSHA has four struck-by hazard categories. They include struck-by flying, falling, swinging and rolling objects. Safety nets, tethered tools and properly rigged loads will help protect workers. Additionally, all contractors need to wear appropriate head protection at all times when these hazards are present.

When working in an elevated position, toe-boards and other protective measures may be used along with other means to prevent struck-by hazards. Employees should also avoid sudden movements and/or reaching too far in that position. Appropriate fall protection must be worn, or guardrails must be in place. Never keep debris or unnecessary materials in an elevated position or on a scaffold platform.

Workers in other common specialty trades have specific hazards that they should also be aware of.

Hopefully, this is a good refresher on how to navigate some of the basic safety hazards encountered on a multi-employer work site. For more information about any of these hazards or other job related safety topics, visit www.osha.gov or consult NFPA 70E for safe electrical practices.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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