Host employer & contract employer: Understanding roles in electrical safety
BY DEREK VIGSTOL
In recent travels for NFPA, I’ve talked with people from a variety of industries about how to create a safe environment for workers conducting electrical tasks. A common misperception is that only the contract employer is liable for their workers’ safety. With the next edition of NFPA 70E®, Electrical Safety in the Workplace®, about to complete the revision process, it’s important for host employers to understand that they also play a key safety role.
I often field questions about the host and contract employer relationship, such as who is the host employer, which employer’s safety program should be followed, and who is ultimately responsible—all questions that must be answered prior to work being performed. Understanding which responsibilities apply to each role is essential for worker safety.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of the host employer to provide a safe working environment within the facility. The host employer is the party contracting to have the work done, and is often the building owner, a general contractor, or construction manager. It could also be a facility management firm contracting out for preventive maintenance on electrical equipment within a building it manages. The contract employer is the party that has been contracted to actually perform the work and must follow the safe work practices outlined in the agreed-upon electrical safety program.
Before any work is performed, it is essential that both parties meet. Section 110.3 of the 2015 edition of NFPA 70E details the information that must be shared during this meeting. Depending on how much the host employer knows about the installation, the host employer may be able to provide the contractor with vital information about hazards related to the work. If the host employer has knowledge of hazards covered by NFPA 70E that are related to the contractor’s work, they must share this information and document that the meeting took place. Also, the contract employer must be informed of anything related to the installation that is necessary to complete the required assessments prior to starting work. Similarly, the contract employer must also advise the host of any hazards that they are aware of that were not communicated by the host employer.
This is also the time to compare electrical safety programs. Both the host and contract employer should have a safety program that defines the practices and procedures in place for safely working on electrical equipment. Discrepancies in these programs can lead the parties to differing expectations for safety. It is the responsibility of the contract employer to communicate the hazards identified in this meeting to its employees and to make sure that all employees follow NFPA 70E, as well as any safety-related rules that the host employer may have.
Lines of communication must remain open as the work is conducted, and both parties have responsibilities that require them to remain involved. The host employer is required to inform the contractor of any observed violations of NFPA 70E procedures, and the contract employer must convey what measures were taken to correct these violations and prevent their recurrence. During the course of the work, the contract employer must inform the host of any hazards that are identified that were not communicated during the initial meeting. This helps the host employer better communicate the known hazards to the next contract employer when similar work is performed in the future.
No matter which role you find yourself in, effective communication is key to ensuring that everyone goes home in one piece. When we understand our roles and responsibilities, we are in a better position to ensure an electrical task can be completed effectively and in the safest manner possible.