Construction Site Safety Design Professional Responsibility Review


Although architects and engineers take responsibility for the safety of the buildings they design, they are generally not responsible for the protection of property or people on site during construction. If a finished building falls due to poor design, the architects and engineers who stamped the drawings will be prime suspects of failure.

However, it is the general contractor who is generally responsible for site safety during the construction of the building. It is the accepted norm in the construction industry that the general contractor is responsible for the physical protection of the construction work and those on site – workers, visitors and the general public – while the construction work is in progress. .

The landlord can play a role in insuring the property and securing the property as a whole by purchasing builders insurance and perimeter security depending on the nature of the property and the project. However, the general contractor is the one who is on site daily and best placed to control the site and the authorized persons on site as well as to enforce safety measures. That said, by contract, performance, or even local building code requirements, architects and engineers may unwittingly expose themselves to liability for injuries on construction sites.

This industry standard is reflected in a number of places. OSHA often requires contractors to develop a site-specific safety plan. Even if not legally mandated, a contractor’s site-specific security plan makes sense from a security perspective and from a liability standpoint. If someone is injured, the contractor can demonstrate in his plan that he took all reasonable precautions.

It is important to note that these OSHA plans are generally not the responsibility of the architect or engineer. As for the contractual assumption of responsibility for construction site safety, the AIA standard construction form contracts (produced by the American Institute of Architects) contain several protections and disclaimers for construction professionals. design. The standard form of contract for architectural services,‎ AIA Document B101™ – 2017‎, §, specifically limits the responsibilities of the architect: , sequences or procedures, or for safety precautions… The architect is responsible for the negligent acts or omissions of the Architect, but has no control or charge of, and is not liable for the acts or omissions of the Contractor or any other person or entity performing any part of the work.

Similarly, the General Contractor’s standard form, General Conditions,‎ AIA Document A201® – 2017‎, ‎§ 4.2.2, places responsibilities on the contractor: “The Architect shall not have the control, charge or responsibility for the means, methods, techniques, sequences or procedures of construction, or for safety precautions and programs in connection with the Work, as these are solely the rights and responsibilities of the Contractor under the Contract Documents. in clause 10 to specifically assign security responsibilities to the contractor: “The contractor is responsible for establishing, maintaining and supervising all security measures and programs relating to the performance of the Contract…The Contractor shall implement, erect and maintain…reasonable safety and protective measures, including the posting of danger signs and other warnings of hazards;promulgate safety rules; and inform owners and users of adjacent sites and utilities of the safeguards.

Independently of these general legal and contractual provisions removing responsibility for site safety, architects and engineers may find themselves necessarily or involuntarily involved in safety measures. Sometimes it’s unavoidable. Highly technical work on mechanical equipment may require an engineer to assess and specify the work procedure, exposing the engineer to liability if someone or something is injured during the procedure, and similarly with engineering work civil or structural on existing structures or sites with strangers. or latent characteristics.

But these risks are expressly understood as part of the job and can be planned for, mitigated and, at the very least, insured against. On the other hand, risks can sometimes be assumed inadvertently or unintentionally. If the standard disclaimers are changed during contract negotiations, the parties may not realize that by doing so they could shift liability between the parties. In any project, there could be “mission drift”, when an architect or engineer specifies a procedure without realizing that it is outside their scope of work but involves workplace safety.

As with any legal risk faced by a professional in the construction industry, the best protection against risks and liabilities, known and unknown, is to consult with legal and insurance advisors before and during a project to understand the risks. and how to protect yourself from it.

William (“Bill”) Ohle is a shareholder in the Portland, Oregon office of Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt.

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Amanda J. Marsh