A recent court case, Gaytan v. Wal-Mart, serves as reminder that general contractors are responsible for the safety of all workers on the job site. In this case, an employee working for a roofing subcontractor died after he fell through the roof of what was soon to be a Wal-Mart. The deceased employee’s estate sued both Wal-Mart and the general contractor (Gram Construction), claiming that they failed to foster a safe work environment. In the ruling, the court first mentioned the general rule that an owner does not owe a subcontractor’s employee a duty because the owner has very little control over the job site. However, exceptions can be made if the owner supervised the work that was done, had the opportunity to prevent the injuries that occurred, or had legitimate knowledge of the issue that caused the injury. So although the court found that Wal-Mart had little control over the situation, the judges found that Gram Construction (the GC) failed on various levels. The GC had the right to supervise work conditions, require a program for safe work conditions, and resolve any safety issues. Further, the court found it important that OHSA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) penalized the GC for their failure to create a safe work environment even though Gram Construction’s employees weren’t exposed to those dangerous conditions. Lastly, evidence revealed that the GC had monitored what the subcontractor’s workers were wearing for protection (but the GC said that their own employees were never permitted to go on the roof). Ultimately, the court found that it was the general contractor’s duty to provide safe working conditions for the subcontractors and everyone working on the job site.

“Why You Should Care: This case is an excellent example of how both the general contractor’s contract and practices can create a duty to maintain a safe workplace for all workers on the job site, even in those areas that the general contractor does not allow its own employees to access.”

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