By Ronnie Uribe

The reality is it’s all too easy for a construction site to become a danger zone. OSHA categorizes the most common construction worker deaths in four types of incidents: Falls, Struck by Object, Electrocutions, and Caught-in/between. These “Fatal Four” account for more than half of the private industry’s construction worker deaths in 2016 and contribute to the grim statistic of over 20 percent of worker deaths occurring in the construction sector. 

Securing a high level of safety at a construction site is critical to ensure the success of your project and fulfill your ethical responsibility as a general contractor. It is ultimately in your hands to establish a safe environment, and you need to know you can also rely on your subcontractors’ active involvement in this goal. 

Here are some ways to mitigate as many subcontractor risks as possible when it comes to hiring and employing:

As a first step, hire subcontractors with a proven, successful track record by effectively screening them before establishing a contract. Careful scrutiny is essential in the bidding and qualifying process and your greatest risk mitigation tool. Closely examine their past performance by paying attention to red flags such as: an increase in incidents, Experience Modification Rates (EMR) greater than 1.00, and any negative reports during reference checks. Obtain an EMR - an insurance premium rate that gauges the cost of previous injuries in relation to future likelihood of risks - for the last three years from a subcontractor’s workers’ compensation carrier. Ask subcontractors to provide additional background information, including:

  • safety and health plans and processes
  • a five-year record of injury and illness rates
  • safety management history (in particular fatality data)
  • job referrals from past contractors
  • adequate insurance coverage
  • pertinent financial statements
  • receipt of OSHA citations in the past five years
  • resumes of relevant on-site employees

Once you’ve vetted and hired quality subcontractors, emphasize the importance communication plays in maintaining a safe environment. Before beginning any tasks, cover all possible risk factors so that subcontractors can address them ahead of time. Since numerous risks are possible at a construction site, prioritize those that are most threatening and those that are most likely to occur. 

Before work begins, keep in mind your responsibility as a general contractor to uphold a safe environment, including: alerting subcontractors of all dangerous possibilities, such as fires, explosions, or toxic release hazards; explaining emergency action plans; and requiring that subcontractors disseminate the information to on-site workers.

Also key is a subcontractor’s ability to manage and log important data, such as documenting contract employee injuries and illnesses, verifying that contract employers are fulfilling agreed-upon responsibilities, and only employing first-rate contractors that are thoroughly screened.

A close examination of subcontractors’ insurance requirements – typically via proof of certificates - is another essential step. Look for a description of the insurance required from all parties – the subcontractor and all its subcontractors (second- and third-tier subcontractors).

Another effective method to reduce your construction subcontractor’s risks and control legal expenses is to verify that all agreements include an indemnification clause. This way, subcontractors are financially responsible for potential liabilities, which allow general contractors an important line of defense.

Keep in mind there’s a window of time until subcontractors’ insurance is in effect, so don’t accept a contract until they can prove coverage has begun.

For general contractors using subcontractors, taking a proactive approach to help control hazards and eliminate risks such as injuries and illnesses, fatalities, equipment and property damage, and regulatory citations will pay off in the long run.