After Three Workers Fall At Massachusetts Worksite, OSHA Administrative Law Judge Holds Both Contractor and Subcontractor Responsible as Single Employer

According to the Health and Safety Act of 1970, employers are required to provide a safe workplace for employees. Recently, an administrative judge with the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission held that two contractors had been operating as a single employer at a worksite in Wenham, Massachusetts when three employees fell from a scaffold and suffered injuries. By holding both employers responsible as a single entity, the judge rejected one employer’s contention it had no personnel on-site and was not aware of OSHA violations.

According to a press release, an investigation by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) after the incident found that a wooden plank that the employees had been using to perform residential roofing work snapped. The employees fell 20 feet to the ground. OSHA determined that the plan had not been graded for scaffold use, and it was not intended to be used for scaffold use. Additionally, the components and structure of the scaffold, as well as the lack of fall protection for employees, had contributed to their injuries. For example, the width of the scaffold had not met the standards set forth by OSHA, and the platforms exceeded the height limit.

In the decision, the judge looked at factors that demonstrated the general contractor had a degree of control and oversight over the subcontractor, such that they were rendered a single employer. The general contractor secured contracts with homeowners seeking roof replacements. The other employer was a subcontractor, working as a roofing company.

The two employers were cited as a single employer, since OSHA noted that their work operations were highly integrated in terms of their worksites, common management, and supervision.  The subcontractor had argued that as a general contractor, it should not be held responsible for the safety of workers on the jobsite, since they were hired by the other employer.

Significantly for workers injured in an industrial accident, the judge set forth the rule that separate entities, or employers, may be deemed a single employer when there is a common worksite, integrated operations, and common ownership. In determining that the employers were in fact operating as one employer, the judge cited the following factors:  the contractor checked to ensure workers were tied off, it was able to fire or discipline workers, and the contractor had represented it did not use subcontractors when it applied for building permits.

The decision upheld the citations set forth by OSHA; the contractor was responsible for paying $173,500 in penalties. (The subcontractor had died, and the claims against him were extinguished.)

This case serves as an example of an employer’s failure to safeguard against workplace hazards. By law, all workers are entitled to a safe workplace, and in the event of an injury, they have the right to pursue workers’ compensation from their employer. At Pulgini & Norton, our workers’ compensation lawyers are familiar with OSHA standards and represent industrial accident victims throughout Massachusetts in their claims for compensation. For a free consultation, call our office at (781) 843-2200 or contact us online.

More Blog Posts:

Auto Parts Company Fined Over Safety Hazards Leading to Death of Employee at Massachusetts Work Site, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, March 9, 2017

Gutter Firm Cited by OSHA for Repeat Violations After Massachusetts Worker Falls and Suffers Severe Injuries, Massachusetts Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog, February 16, 2017

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