Protecting Workers At Customers’ Homes and Work Sites

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.

Legal Requirements

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.


About mavity2012

I am a Senior Partner operating out of the Atlanta office of Fisher & Phillips LLP, one of the Nation’s oldest and largest management employment and labor firms. My practice is national and keeps me on the road or in one of our 28 offices about 50 percent of the time. I created and co-chair the Firm's Workplace Safety and Catastrophe Management Practice Group. I have almost 29 years of experience as a labor lawyer, but rely even more heavily on the experience I gained in working in my family's various businesses, and through dealing with practical client issues. Employers tell me that they seldom meet an attorney who delivers on his promise to provide practical guidance and to be a business partner. As a result, some executives probably use different terms than “practical” to describe my fellow travelers in the profession. I don't enjoy the luxury of being impractical because I spend much of my time on shop floors and construction sites dealing with safety, union and related issues which are driven by real world processes and the need to protect and get the most out of one's most important business assets ... its employees. That's one of the reasons that I view safety compliance as a way to also manage problem employees, reduce litigation and develop the type of work environment that makes unions unnecessary. Starting out dealing with union-management challenges and a stint in the NLRB have better equipped me to see the interrelationship of legal and workplace factors. I am proud also of my experience at Fisher & Phillips, where providing “practical advice” is second only to legal excellence among the Firm’s values. Our website lists me as having provided counsel for over 225 occasions of union activity, guided unionized companies, and as having managed approximately 450 OSHA fatality cases in construction and general industry, ranging from dust explosions to building collapses, in virtually every state. I have coordinated complex inspections involving multi-employer sites, corporate-wide compliance, and issues involving criminal referral. As a full labor lawyer, I oversee audits of corporate labor, HR, and safety compliance. I have responded to virtually every type of day-to-day workplace inquiry, and have handled cases before the EEOC, OFCCP, NLRB, and numerous other state and federal agencies. At F & P, all of us seek to spot issues and then rely upon attorneys in the Firm who concentrate on those areas. No tunnel vision. I teach or speak around 50 times per year to business associations, bar and professional groups, and to individual businesses. I serve on safety committees at three states’ AGC Chapters, teach at the AGC ASMTC
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