Everyone in the remodeling industry knows that much of the work you do presents a risk of injury … even death. And hopefully you know that all employers are required by OSHA to provide employees with a safe working environment. You may also know that there are 22 states (and Puerto Rico) that have state OSHA plans, rather than federal, that you must follow if you work in one of these states.

Also, every state has OSHA consultation services, called the Office of Consultation Services, which exists to educate employers and employees. This office performs site inspections by invitation only, and keeps the results confidential. Small companies in high-risk industries (such as remodeling contractors) are given priority, and the service is provided for free. According to OSHA, “employers can find out about potential hazards at their worksites, improve their occupational safety and health management systems, and even qualify for a one-year exemption from routine OSHA inspections.”

These offices are different from OSHA’s enforcement division, which is administered by either the state or the federal government, depending on whether or not you’re in a state-plan state. The enforcement division makes unannounced inspections and is the entity that will penalize you if you’re found in noncompliance. There are two types of inspections. One is a “focused” inspection, which looks at only a limited number of conditions for compliance, such as fall hazards, electrical hazards, personal protection, and so on. The other type is a “wall-to-wall” inspection, which is self-explanatory.

For those of you who are paper contractors -- what is your obligation to comply with OSHA regulations? To quote:  “You will be responsible for doing your best to ensure that your subcontractor complies with OSHA.” In other words, if your sub is not in compliance, and you can’t prove that you’ve taken all reasonable steps to make the sub comply (short of throwing him off the job), you will be held responsible. This means that you will have to require the sub to:

  • Wear the appropriate protective gear (hard hat, eye protection, appropriate clothing, etc.)

  • Use the appropriate fall-protection equipment if any work is 6 feet off the ground or higher

  • Use ground fault circuit interrupters on each extension cord

  • Have at least one of the sub's employees trained in first-aid techniques

  • Have in place a written safety-training program and hazard-communication program

If your sub is not in compliance, you should notify him in writing that he must comply before you will allow him to complete the job. Of course, if the workers are your employees, it will be your obligation to have these practices in place yourself.
With that said, I have never heard of an OSHA inspection on a residential remodeling project in over 20 years of experience with projects around the country. But the issue is not about the low probability of being caught violating some annoying regulations, nor is it an economic issue. The issue is ensuring that the people who work on your projects do not get injured or killed. This is a value set that should be a part of every remodeler’s company culture. It’s about doing the right thing. --Rick Provost has more than 20 years experience helping to build the country’s largest design/build franchise network specializing in exterior home improvement. Formerly the president and CEO of Archadeck, Rick is now a principal in SMI Safety, a safety consulting and staffing business that specializes in industrial construction. Rick also consults with emerging franchise companies to help them develop growth strategies and business systems. He can be reached at rickp@smisafety.com.