Four Steps for Managing Employees from Afar (from Construction Business Owner)

Follow these steps to avoid OSHA violations and ensure your workforce values safety and professionalism regardless of who is watching.
Written by:

Howard Mavity


June 1, 2014 


A CEO friend of mine was trying to exit a hotel. As he emerged from the designated exit stairway, he 
almost fell into a hole and tripped over construction debris. Spotting a contractor foreman, he reasonably pointed out that the workers were violating a host of OSHA and local codes and that the head of the state’s OSHA agency was actually meeting with his supervisors at that same hotel. This moment of politeness was greeted by an expletive and then dismissed. When the CEO returned to his office, he asked his construction managers if they had heard of the contractor. “Why, yes,” they responded, “we use them a lot.” The CEO’s response? “Not anymore.”

Many employees work alone at a customer’s site with no immediate supervision or safety professional to check for hazards and ensure professionalism. Many employees, such as journeymen electricians and certified crane 
operators, are trained to operate with minimal supervision. Other workers may be less equipped to individually analyze their settings. Unfortunately, both types of isolated workers may violate OSHA standards or act unprofessionally, as in the case of the soon-to-be ex-foreman mentioned above. Preventing that misconduct is more of a problem when employees—even those who are experienced—are working alone. In fact, the majority of the nearly 500 workplace fatalities I’ve managed involved experienced employees, not new hires. Experienced workers may become lax about hazards, or when fatigued, lose sight of good judgment.

An employer has some level of duty to protect its employees whether they are on the employer’s work site or working elsewhere. The employer cannot delegate this responsibility to others even when another employer controls the work site. The employer retains responsibility to protect its people—even highly skilled workers who are trained to operate alone. OSHA can cite multiple employers on the same job. For example, OSHA might cite the work site 
owner for creating the hazard and the actual employer for allowing its employee to be exposed to the hazard. However, a contractor can’t send a safety manager to conduct a site safety analysis at every power pole, ready-mix delivery or work site where skilled craftsmen are working alone.

Photo courtesy of ClickSafety of a Webcor Builders Jobsite by Ryan Hefferman Photography

If an accident occurs, OSHA will ask the employer many of the same questions that it would ask if the employer 
controlled the work site or had a supervisor present: Who did the site safety analysis? How did you monitor employees and ensure that they used fall protection? Did you 
conduct a pre-work meeting? When did these employees last attend a safety meeting?

You may assume that employees confer throughout the day with supervisors, dispatchers and technicians. You may have trained employees to exercise greater responsibility when working alone, but are these procedures documented? To ensure your employees maintain safe and 
professional conduct while on the job and to avoid violating OSHA regulations, follow the steps below.


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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