The Role of Project Owners in Promoting Safety On & Around Construction Sites Expert Article

In this article, architect & construction expert, Will Martin discusses the project owner’s role in promoting safety on and around the construction site. Our experts are frequently retained to investigate injuries to construction workers and the general public to explain the responsibilities and liability of the various parties.

Construction Owner Safety Expert

The Role of Project Owners in Promoting Safety On & Around Construction Sites

Owners of construction projects can rely upon contractors to shoulder the burden of construction safety, but only up to a point. Project owners must consider safety both on the site and adjacent to the site as part of planning a construction project and throughout the contracting process. Owners must provide direction and information necessary for a contractor to produce and enforce an effective safety plan, and they must consider safety when evaluating prospective contractors.

Contractor Responsibility

The contractor’s responsibility for construction site safety is well established and non-delegable. The general contractor is required to have a jobsite safety plan that conforms to OSHA and local requirements. On certain federal projects the contractor must conform to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ safety requirements. The American National Standards Institute publishes ANSI A10.34 Protection of the Public on or Adjacent to Construction Sites. This standard, along with the Corps of Engineers publication EM 385-1-1 Safety and Health Requirements Manual, specifically tasks the contractor with expanding the safety plan to include consideration of adjacent areas that could be affected by construction operations.

When vehicular traffic and circulation are affected by construction, Chapter 6 of the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides standardized requirements for temporary signage, barricades, and other temporary safety controls.

Owner Responsibility

The owner or operator who hired the contractor cannot completely avoid responsibility for safety by hiring a contractor. ANSI A10.1 Pre-Project & Pre-Task Safety and Health Planning outlines the project owner’s responsibilities. Owner's responsibilities apply during the planning and design phases, long before bidding or contractor selection. The project specifications should make safety expectations clear, and prospective contractors should be given sufficient time and information to analyze and incorporate safety requirements into final pricing.

Prospective contractors’ safety histories should be evaluated by the owner through inspection of safety records, workers compensation modifier rates, and the credentials of contractor personnel responsible for site safety. Specifications should require site specific safety plans. Many projects have shared equipment like forklifts and scaffolds. The specification should require a single party, whether the general contractor or some other specified entity, to retain full responsibility for shared equipment. This counteracts the tendency for “everyone’s job” to become no one’s job.

Safety responsibility during construction falls within two basic categories – within the project site and adjacent to the project site.

Owner Responsibility On-Site

The project owner must disclose known hazards to the designers and contractor prior to the start of work. The owner must produce a “Good Faith Letter” outlining where hazardous materials are and whether they have been abated prior to the start of work on an older building. The owner should require the contractor to produce and follow a site-specific safety plan.

Safety review has become a standard part of weekly owner-contractor progress meetings. Owners should emphasize safety requirements and expectations during these weekly meetings.

Construction Safety Figure 1

Owner Responsibility Adjacent To the Site

The owner’s responsibility for safety adjacent to a construction site is more complex. For example, if an owner undertakes a remodel or expansion in an occupied facility, that owner must ensure that the construction area is reliably barricaded, fenced, or otherwise made inaccessible to people who don’t belong there. Sometimes security guards are necessary to prevent unauthorized personnel finding ways to defeat fences and barricades.

Ongoing work in the facility but outside the construction fence, like alterations to mechanical or electrical systems, can entail tools and equipment in areas also occupied by non-construction people. The owner must coordinate safety efforts with the contractor in order to minimize the likelihood that a curious person will enter a construction area or get injured by ongoing construction in an area outside the construction enclosure.

Another owner / contractor safety coordination item is scheduling potentially hazardous work at a time that minimizes the number of non-construction people in the area when it is in progress. As an example, if a facility is being expanded using tilt-up concrete walls, any areas that could be affected in the event of a miscue should be vacated during the tilt-up. Once the structure is safely erected and reliably stabilized, the owner may put those areas back into normal operation.

The owner remains responsible for housekeeping around the construction site. Construction is a noisy, dusty process that can cause vibrations and other disruptions. That noise, dust, and vibration should be kept as contained as possible, but it’s not always possible to achieve complete containment. The owner must consider the effect upon sensitive operations or materials that could become unstable due to vibration and perform routine inspections to prevent hazards.


A project owner can look to a properly licensed and insured contractor to shoulder the bulk of responsibility for construction jobsite safety. Making sure the contractor has a valid license and appropriate insurance, and then allowing the contractor to work independently puts responsibility upon the contractor.

The project owner cannot avoid all responsibility. The owner must plan for safety from project conception. The owner must provide the contractor with information necessary to provide a safe worksite. The owner must coordinate with the contractor to schedule work safely, and the owner must perform inspections to discover and correct any safety problems that construction operations may cause in areas adjacent to the jobsite.

Construction safety requires analysis, planning, and ongoing vigilance by all involved parties. Although the issues grow more extensive and more complex as the size and complexity of the project increases, the requirements remain fundamentally the same whether the project is a residential bathroom remodel or a large industrial, commercial, or institutional project.

Construction Safety Investigations

The Construction Safety experts at Robson Forensic have worked at every level within the industry, from bricklayer on residential projects to project manager on multi-prime worksites. Our experts have done the work central to your case and can testify regarding the hazards, risks, and responsibilities in the construction industry.

For more information submit an inquiry or contact the author of this article.

Featured Expert

William E. J. Martin, Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert

William E. J. Martin, AIA, NCARB

Architecture, Construction & Premises Safety Expert
Will investigates cases involving construction disputes and defects, workplace and construction site safety, premises safety, and architectural professional practice. He has more than thirty years… read more.


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