Safety Best Practices

Safety Responsibilities of General Contractors: What You Need to Know

Emily Lundh @Emily
Safety & Compliance
0 min read
October 26, 2023

Today we’re delving deep into the world of safety responsibilities for general contractors. We’ll explore the multifaceted role of general contractors in ensuring safe construction sites including Canadian COR (Certificate of Recognition) programs, the U.S. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration). We’ll even cover the British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA).

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The Role of General Contractors in Safety

General contractors play a pivotal role in shaping safety standards and practices in the construction industry, both in Canada and the United States. They serve as leaders, setting the tone for the entire team and ensuring that everyone on the construction site returns home safely at the end of the day.

They play a pivotal role in making sure everything runs smoothly on a bustling job site. Picture them as the conductors of a complex symphony, ensuring that all the moving parts harmonize to complete the project efficiently, on time, and within budget. They wear many hats, from coordinating subcontractors and enforcing quality standards to being champions of safety and problem solvers when unexpected challenges arise. Communication is their forte, bridging the gap between project stakeholders and reducing misunderstandings. These experts also keep a watchful eye on regulatory compliance to steer clear of legal issues. Plus, they go the extra mile to ensure client satisfaction, often exceeding expectations, which leads to repeat business and referrals. In a nutshell, general contractors are the driving force behind the construction industry’s success, and their friendly expertise makes the job site a safer and more efficient place for all involved.

Establishing a Safety Culture

A safety culture is the heartbeat of any construction project, and general contractors are the ones responsible for initiating its rhythm. It’s about creating a mindset where safety isn’t just a rule to follow but a way of life. This culture extends beyond rules and regulations; it’s a commitment to making safety an integral part of the organization’s DNA.

In Canada, organizations participating in COR programs (Certificate of Recognition) set themselves apart by adhering to stringent safety standards. Organizations that achieve COR certification demonstrate their dedication to safety, going above and beyond basic compliance.

Legal and Regulatory Obligations

The construction industry in the United States and Canada is regulated by specific laws and standards. In the United States, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) sets the federal safety guidelines for construction, while Canada has its own set of provincial regulations.

In Canada, each province has its own safety regulations, and organizations need to ensure compliance with both federal and provincial standards. For instance, British Columbia’s provincial guidelines are overseen by the British Columbia Construction Safety Alliance (BCCSA).

Compliance with these standards is not just a requirement but an ethical commitment to ensuring the well-being of construction workers.

Liability Concerns

Construction projects are not without their risks, and general contractors often carry a significant share of the liability. Legal implications in the construction industry can be complex, varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

For example, in the United States, OSHA regulations mandate that general contractors are responsible for the safety of all workers on their sites, even those employed by subcontractors. Non-compliance with OSHA regulations can result in hefty fines and legal repercussions.

In Canada, achieving and maintaining COR certification can provide some protection against liability, as it demonstrates a proactive approach to safety.

Collaboration with Subcontractors

General contractors frequently collaborate with subcontractors who bring specialized skills to construction projects. Ensuring that these subcontractors are equally committed to safety is a critical responsibility.

Collaboration with subcontractors is the heartbeat of the construction industry, and it’s all about teamwork and working together harmoniously. This involves assessing their expertise, experience, and safety records. Clear contractual agreements come next, laying out the ground rules, responsibilities, and safety protocols. Communication is key, and regular safety meetings are like family gatherings where everyone shares updates, ideas, and concerns. When issues pop up, which they sometimes do, the collaborative spirit kicks in for problem-solving and conflict resolution. The result? A work environment where safety and efficiency flourish, leading to successful project outcomes, and everyone leaves the job site with smiles and high-fives.

Subcontractor Selection and Prequalification

Selecting subcontractors is akin to assembling a dream team. It’s essential to vet potential partners, considering their safety record and practices. This selection process is crucial, as subcontractors play an integral role in maintaining the overall safety of the project.

For instance, in British Columbia, the BCCSA offers resources and guidelines for general contractors to help with subcontractor prequalification, ensuring that all parties involved are aligned with safety standards.

Contractual Agreements

The foundation of any successful project lies in the contractual agreements. These documents set the terms for collaboration, including the allocation of safety responsibilities.

A well-crafted contract outlines safety expectations, protocols, and responsibilities explicitly, leaving no room for ambiguity

In the United States, construction contracts often include clauses specifying that subcontractors must comply with all OSHA regulations, and general contractors are responsible for enforcing these requirements.

Communication and Coordination

Open lines of communication are essential to safety. Regular safety meetings are the platform for discussion, updates, and the dissemination of safety-related information. Moreover, efficient reporting and documentation processes ensure that safety incidents and measures are recorded systematically. Adding construction safety posters on site can help with this.

For example, in Canada, organizations that participate in COR programs encourage a culture of open communication, regular safety meetings, and meticulous incident reporting. This promotes a proactive approach to safety management.

Safety Planning and Documentation

Developing a Site-Specific Safety Plan

Each construction site is unique, with its specific challenges and risks. The creation of a site-specific safety plan is, therefore, imperative. This plan should consider potential hazards, outline mitigation strategies, and provide clear guidance on the steps to take in case of an emergency.

In British Columbia, the BCCSA encourages general contractors to create site-specific safety plans that are tailored to the unique challenges of each project. These plans not only enhance safety but also contribute to efficient project management.

Recordkeeping and Documentation

Accurate recordkeeping is the safety historian of your construction project. It includes incident reports, safety inspections, and emergency response plans. These records serve as a crucial tool for identifying trends, assessing the effectiveness of safety measures, and making necessary improvements.

In the United States, OSHA mandates the maintenance of these records for specific periods. These records are invaluable in not only tracking the effectiveness of safety measures but also for providing evidence in the event of any legal disputes.

Tools and Technology for Safety Management

In the digital age, safety management has seen a significant transformation. Introducing construction safety management software is a game-changer for general contractors. Such software streamlines safety processes, making it easier to manage, document, and ensure compliance. These tools, along with programs like COR Canada, support general contractors in fostering a culture of safety.

The subcontractor dashboard is the first place I start my day. I look at who is active, where their form submissions are at for the day - then I identify any irregularities and prioritize what I need to focus on for the day
Rebecca Zavaglia, Health and Safety Coordinator @ Broccolini

Training Programs for General Contractors

Training is the foundation of a safe construction site. By investing in your team’s knowledge and skills, you’re setting the stage for a safer workplace. Programs like COR Canada offer specialized training designed to help organizations develop a deeper understanding of safety and make continuous improvement a reality.

For instance, organizations in Canada can participate in COR programs to access specialized training modules and resources. This ongoing education empowers general contractors and their teams with the knowledge needed to drive safety initiatives effectively.

Ensuring Competency Among Workers

Competent workers are the linchpin of a safe construction site. To ensure competency, training isn’t a one-off event but an ongoing process. Regular training and evaluations, aligned with safety standards, are essential. By investing in your team’s competence, you are investing in the safety and success of your projects.

In the United States, OSHA provides guidelines for training programs, and it encourages ongoing education and evaluation to maintain competency. This ensures that workers remain up-to-date with safety protocols and practices.

Safety Performance Metrics and KPIs

The Importance of Data

Data is the backbone of any safety management system. In British Columbia, the BCCSA emphasizes the significance of data collection and analysis in evaluating safety performance. Similarly, in the United States, OSHA encourages the use of data to make informed safety decisions. Data is your construction blueprint for safety, allowing you to identify trends, areas of improvement, and potential risks.

For example, an analysis of data collected from safety software revealed that a specific construction company was experiencing a higher number of incidents during certain phases of their projects. This data-driven insight allowed them to implement targeted safety measures during those phases, resulting in a significant reduction in incidents.

Tracking and Measuring Safety Performance

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) provide a means to track and measure safety performance. In both COR Canada and OSHA standards, KPIs are essential tools for gauging safety success. By setting and tracking these KPIs, you can continually assess your safety efforts, identify areas for improvement, and celebrate milestones when your safety performance excels.

An example of a critical KPI is the Total Recordable Incident Rate (TRIR), which calculates the number of recordable incidents per 100 full-time workers. By tracking TRIR and similar KPIs, organizations can identify trends and make data-driven decisions to improve safety.

Managing Subcontractors with salus

Staying compliant with your subcontractors and ensuring you have good record keeping habits is much easier with a software. With construction safety management systems like SALUS you can manage your subcontractors differently than you would handle your internal workers. The SALUS Subcontractor Portal gives you the ability to view and manage the workers in all of your subcontractor companies including adding new workers to the system and giving them access to the sites they need. Book a demo with SALUS to learn more about how to use their subcontractor portal.

See Salus in Action

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