I have written a few blogs about host and contractor employer responsibilities. Over the past year, I have pointed out many times that NFPA 70E, Standard for Electrical Safety in the Workplace has minimum issues that need to be addressed between the two employers. NFPA 70E requires a documented meeting but does not detail exactly what should be documented. NFPA 70E refers to known electrical hazards but it really is how the contract employee will be protected from those hazards that should be addressed.
A host employer is responsible for safety in their facility regardless of purpose of a visit. No one should violate the host’s established safety procedures regardless of their employment status. A host employer is not given carte blanche to allow contract employees to willfully expose themselves to the risk of an injury or fatality. Host employers have been cited by OSHA for incidents involving contract employees. At the very least the host and contract employers should review each other’s applicable safety procedures. They should then document how the contract employee will conduct the task. A host employer may find it hard to justify hiring a contract employer who has no safety policy, procedures or training for the task to be performed in their facility. It is also possible that the contract employer must educate, train and document what is to occur due to lack of a host employer safety policy. A consensus should be reached on how to educate and train contract employees. This must occur before an employer begins the task. If it is not documented, it did not happen.
I pulled up the BLS database for fatal occupational injuries incurred by contracted workers (2011-2017) to provide some data to illustrate the need for a host and contract employer to be in the same ball park. During this time there were 1,049 fatalities, including 440 contract employees, from exposure to electricity in all occupations. I expect that an employee is either working for a host (employer) or a contract employer. A simplistic view with all things being equal would be a 50/50 split if there was an equal number of employees. Contract employees account for 42% of all contact fatalities. Contract workers in the database are not limited to those in the electrical industry. Employees from cleaning services, HVAC, plumbing, groundskeeping, and other non-electrical trades are included. The following charts show the percentage of contact fatalities attributed to contracted workers compared to all other workers. Note that fatalities due to >220 volts may be included within the other three sub-categories.
From this data, it seems as if the contract employee is not fully aware of the distribution system or equipment at the host’s site when performing an assigned task. This unfamiliarity results in contract employees accounting for a higher percentage of building wiring and switchboard, switch and fuse fatalities than for all contact fatalities. It could also be the reason behind the slightly higher percentage of contract electrician fatalities. The minor rise in >220 volt contact fatalities may be due to contract employees being exposed to higher voltages than seen while performing typical tasks. Contract employee fatalities due to contact with powerlines is consistent with the overall contact fatalities.
Host employers may be taking a hands-off attitude with electrical safety when using a contact employer. Host employers may be hiring contract employers without implementing a safety program with them. Host employers may not be verifying that a qualified or a properly trained unqualified contract employee is assigned the task. The contract employer may not be enforcing their own safety protocols while at a host employer facility. The contact employer may not be ensuring that an employee is qualified or trained for the specific task to be conducted and to recognize the electrical hazards associated with the host’s specific equipment.
A contract employer must address the safety of their own employees regardless of the work location and assigned task whether it is electrical or not. A host employer is not only responsible for the safety of their own employees but also contract employees from any trade. A host may assume that a contract employer has a well-developed and documented electrical safety program (ESP) and that only qualified or trained contract employees will be assigned work. The host may assume that the contract employer’s ESP addresses issues within the host’s facility. We all know about assumptions. When it comes to electrical safety and keeping an employee alive or uninjured, an assumption does not provide the correct answer. A host and contract employer must be sure and it should be documented.
For more information on 70E, read my entire 70E blog series on Xchange.
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Next time: Putting an Employee’s Life at Risk for No Reason