Contractors could be liable for wildfire smoke impacts on workers’ health

By November 2, 2020 No Comments

Construction firms may have legal exposure if workers become sick during unhealthy or hazardous air quality days, according to attorney Michael Zisa, as reported in Construction Dive.

“Contractors are not experts in air quality, safety standards or disease control,” Zisa said in an email. “When confronted with ambiguous standards or requirements, contractors are left to determine on their own how to balance the need to protect their employees and other workers with the need to meet their obligations to the project owner, which can expose them to legal, regulatory and reputational problems,” he said.

But Greg Sizemore, vice president of health, safety, environment and workforce development at Associated Builders and Contractors, said that while the situation isn’t ideal, contractors should use their best judgment to protect themselves and their workers.

“It’s one thing to ask someone to set up a regulatory requirement that says X, Y or Z,” Sizemore said. “I say to you: Be careful what you ask for.”

Instead, he recommends that contractors talk with owners about the health impacts of working in such conditions and the potential liability that continuing work in those situations could bring. And just as with COVID-19, contractors need to do what is necessary to put their workers’ health first.

“I would suspect that if you have a candid conversation with the builders, they don’t want to be liable for any of that,” Sizemore said. “What they need to do is envision their son, daughter, husband or wife being asked to perform the work that an employee of theirs is being asked to perform. I submit that if you connect yourself to it personally like that, you’re going to pump the brakes.”

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