A Contractor’s Obligations for Construction Safety

A contractor’s obligations towards construction safety are similar to that of an owner’s, but are more extensive. Not only are contractors obligated to provide safe job sites, they must also provide workers with safe equipment, tools, and safety devices. The common-law obligations of a contractor have been expanded by statutes and regulations that specify general safety precautions and what safety devices must be made available and under what conditions. However, like an owner, contractors are not responsible for freak accidents under either common or statutory law. Herman v. Lancaster Homes, Inc., 145  A.D.2d 926, 536 N.Y.S.2d 298 (4th Dep’t 1988).

At common law, a contractor’s responsibility for safe conditions on a work site will not extend to areas created and connected with the details of a subcontractor’s work. Wright v. Belt Associates, Inc., 14 N.Y.2d 129, 249 N.Y.S.2d 416 (1964). General contractors are not liable for injuries resulting from defects in a subcontractor’s tools, method or negligence act as to the details of the subcontractor’s work. Heilmann v. Bronx River Associates, 204 A.D.2d 393, 611 N.Y.S.2d 884 (2d Dep’t 1994). Furthermore, a general contractor who has no actual authority to control or enforce safety standards on an independent prime contractor will not be responsible for safety conditions of the prime’s work. Nowak v. Smith & Mahoney, P.C., 110 A.D.2d 228, 494 N.Y.S.2d 449 (3d Dep’t 1985). However, when a subcontractor’s employee is under the control and supervision of the general contractor, the general contractor will be liable for any injuries to the employee. Broderick v. Cauldwell-Wingate Co., 301 N.Y. 182 (1950). The duty to maintain a safe work site by the general contractor is not limited to just workers; it extends to invitees (Petluck v. McGolrick Realty Co., 240 A.D.61, 268 N.Y.S. 782 (1st Dep’t 1934)) and, sometimes, to trespassers as well. Amerman v. Lizza & Sons, Inc., 45 A.D.2d 996, 358 N.Y.S.2d 220 (2d Dep’t 1974).

Under N.Y. Labor Law §§ 200, 240, and 241, a contractor may be liable to an injured worker, including workers employed by someone else. § 200 specifies that a general contractor will not be liable for the manner in which a subcontractor’s operations are carried out, unless it has control over the subcontractor’s work or assumes responsibility for the method used. Lagzdins v. United Welfare Fund-Security Division Marriott Corp., 77 A.D.2d 585, 430 N.Y.S..2d 351 (2d Dep’t 1980). If a contractor has knowledge or creates an unsafe work condition and does not remedy it, the contractor will be liable for any injuries resulting from that unsafe condition. Bradley v. Morgan Stanley & Co., Inc., 21 A.D.3d 866, 800 N.Y.S.2d 620 (2d Dep’t 2005). Under §§ 240 and 241, a contractor’s obligations are identical to an owner’s, in that they are absolute and non-delegable. Measures taken to try and pass liability on to subcontractors are only effective between the subcontractor and contractor, and will not limit an injured worker’s right to seek damages from the contractor. Haimes v. New York Telephone Co., 46 N.Y.2d 132, 412 N.Y.S.2d 863 (1978).

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