A Consultant’s Safety Liabilities: A Guide for Working on Multiemployer Sites
- Vladimir Ivensky (Amec Foster Wheeler)
- Document ID
- American Society of Safety Engineers
- Professional Safety
- Publication Date
- January 2016
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 38 - 45
- 2016. American Society of Safety Engineers
- 0 in the last 30 days
- 32 since 2007
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- Engineering, scientific and architectural consulting companies involved at multiemployer field projects may have safety liabilities that extend beyond protection of their own employees.
- These liabilities originate in a consulting company’s regulatory or contractual duty of safety care to subcontractors or other project parties; in consulting company employees’ actions in the field that can be interpreted as control over other project parties; and in deficient design or specifications produced by a consulting company.
- Recognizing, evaluating and controlling such exposures are important for establishing effective risk mitigative strategies and for the ultimate success of any multiemployer field project.
An engineering, scientific or architectural consultant at a multiemployer project site may face a host of safety-related liabilities including directly hired subcontractors, any other party (other employers and/or public), and deficiencies related to project design or professional services provided. For example, hiring a field subcontractor may change a consultant’s project role to that of controlling employer (OSHA, 1999), bringing with it the duty of safety care to the employees of another employer.
Therefore, a consulting firm’s management and field personnel must recognize the company’s project-specific safety roles and responsibilities, and implement a strategy that allows for successful project completion without causing the firm to retain unnecessary liabilities and risks, all while also protecting its own employees’ safety and health, and correctly intervening when observing unsafe conditions (not created or controlled by a consultant) or when other project parties take risky actions (without incidentally assuming a controlling employer role).
Consultants may be hired by any multiemployer project party (e.g., owner, prime contractor, general contractor, lower-tier contractor) to provide various professional services. In addition to design tasks, this work may encompass elements of field oversight (often defined as management in contracts), including oversight of tasks such as drilling, excavating, installing monitoring wells or other tasks classified as construction. These tasks are conducted by either directly hired contractors or by contractors hired by other project parties (e.g., general contractor). Therefore, in some field projects, the activities of an engineering, scientific or architectural consultant may cross from consulting into construction management or prime contracting.
Projects vary in scale and scope, as well as in the level of associated OSH hazards. For example, one project might involve developing one or two boreholes or a couple of test pits, while another may involve hundreds of boreholes or test pits, as well as construction of soil or groundwater remediation systems. These projects may have a complex organizational structure, and may be part of a larger project. As a result, contractual relationships, roles and responsibilities (including safety) among various project parties may not be clear to all project parties and participants.
Consulting engineers and scientists are typically not trained as construction managers or superintendents. For example, they may be wildlife biologists, archaeologists, environmental scientists, water resource engineers, construction materials scientists or technicians hired to accomplish specialized project deliverables. However, other project parties (e.g., client, regulator) may view the consultant (correctly or not) to be not just an engineer or scientist, but a construction manager, general contractor or prime contractor with controlling authority and safety duties to other project employers (Figure 1, p. 40).
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