Did boss have more authority over ‘sub’ than he thought?

by on March 15, 2012 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: Workplace Safety Network

“I didn’t hire the workers who got hurt and I didn’t supervise them,” said Supervisor Sam Lennox.

“Yes, but you handed out safety equipment on the work site,” said the injured worker’s attorney, Jean Gustafson. “And you had the authority to stop work for safety reasons.”

“Yeah, I handed out lanyards and harnesses,” said Sam. “Was that wrong?”

“It’s not wrong,” said Jean. “It just means you had some control over the workers.”

“I don’t see how,” said Sam. “We hired a roofing contractor and gave them a few harnesses. I was expected to use my stop-work authority only if I saw something flagrant.”

Flagrant or not?
Sam took a deep breath and continued.

“And this wasn’t a flagrant problem,” Sam said. “A roof bracket collapsed that they were both standing on, and they fell off the roof. I’m a general supervisor; I don’t go up on the roof and inspect the installation of roof brackets. That’s the subcontractor’s job.”

“But the workers weren’t wearing the safety harnesses you handed out,” said Jean. “That seems pretty flagrant.”

“Hindsight is 20-20,” said Sam.

Sam’s company asked for the injured worker’s case to be dismissed.

The Decision
The company didn’t get a quick legal knockout. Instead, the court ruled that a jury would need to sort out whether Sam had enough authority to exercise legal control over the subcontractor.

Key: Sam had the authority to stop work and didn’t use it when he saw the subcontractor’s workers not using safety harnesses. That is, Sam had some control, and then didn’t use it when he should have.

Here are some suggestions for avoiding this kind of case:

  • If you aren’t an expert in a subcontractor’s safety procedures, ask the sub’s supervisor how they plan to handle local safety hazards.
  • ook for red flags, such as lack of PPE compliance, poor supervision and a poor safety attitude. If there are red flags, be ready to intervene.

Cite: Santos v. Ashcroft Co., No. X08CV-0201927645, Conn. Super.

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