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.
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.