Construction employers have made progress in managing individual employees and crews at multiemployer sites. Similarly, although mistakes still occur, we’ve got over 40 years experience complying with OSHA on the shop floor.
Unfortunately, neither setting represents the increasingly common work situation where small groups of employees or individual technicians work on customer sites far from their actual “supervision.” Consider these challenges in managing these remote employees and crews:
- Employees operate from their homes or report to supervision at a different location from their reporting site.
- Employees rarely gather together for any type of meeting, let alone regular safety briefings.
- Employees increasingly work alone and, even when working alongside other companies’ workers, they remain responsible for means and methods, safety, and often even quality assurance. No “supervisors” or safety professionals are present from their employer.
- Often no manager or auditor checks on or approves the work.
- “General industry” has experienced an explosive growth in technology-driven jobs, from linemen to an infinite variety of technicians. Similarly, many healthcare employees work alone or in small crews at patient homes or onsite at hospitals or clinics. “Drivers” may now be “representatives” and perform tasks at the customer’s location. New technology requires ever more sophisticated hardware and software and the technicians to maintain it. The variety of jobs is nearly endless.
- OSHA standards, many of which are more than 40 years old, did not anticipate the newer work settings and do not often consider that no supervisor may be present and the employer has no control of the site.
- Many of these employees may not have the tradition of safety developed over time by construction craft workers. They may not view their work site as hazardous.
The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act requires you to protect your employees regardless of where they work. OSHA Construction Standards at 29 CFR 1926.20 and 1926.21 require the employer to determine the hazards of a job and train and equip employees accordingly. However, the standards are silent about how an employer should meet this challenge when its employees work at a dozen different sites per week, none controlled by the employer.
OSHA General Industry Standards do not give an employer a pass because it does not control the place where its employees work. The employer must ensure that those employees are trained and equipped for any safety hazards they may encounter. Hazards requiring personal protective equipment (PPE) require a “Job Safety Analysis” under 29 CFR 1910.132(b). Employers may also need to determine if the site maintains a hearing conservation program or requires respiratory protection. Completing effective JSAs for an employee operating at customer sites and/or by him- or herself requires critical employer and employee effort.