Maintaining job site safety is an extremely important function. It is also a role no one wants. Assignment of that responsibility under the contract documents is viewed – and rightly so – as a lightning rod for litigation. Someone needs to coordinate safety on the overall project, but at what cost in liability exposure?
A recent Indiana case seems to suggest an answer. The construction manager on a large public works project had extensive responsibilities administering the safety program. The CM monitored contractor compliance, conducted weekly safety meetings and daily inspections, and reported noncompliance to the project owner.
The contract documents made it clear, however, that the CM had no control over the contractors or their employees. The CM’s services were provided solely for the benefit of the project owner. The contractors, who had contracted directly with the project owner, were the controlling employers of their workers.
The Indiana Supreme Court said this was a good way to promote safety on large public works projects. The CM could administer the project safety program in a comprehensive manner on behalf of the project owner without being exposed to claims from injured workers.
Do you think this is a reasonable compromise? Or is this yet another example of construction contract documents establishing something and then disclaiming responsibility for it? Should any party that exercises control over safety practices be entirely exculpated from liability for its performance of that function? I welcome your comments.
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