September 2017

Expect the Unexpected: A Guide to Job-site Visitors

Part of an ongoing accident prevention series from the experts at Builders Mutual.

Builders Mutual

In an average day, you expect supervisors, subcontractors, and inspectors to appear frequently onsite. You’ve also grown to expect real estate agents frequenting the property with homebuyers. At this point, you even expect the nosy neighbor, the venturesome child, and the mischievous teen.

Regardless of whether or not someone has permission to enter a job-site, it is important to implement safety programs that account for the many visitors your site may attract.

Your first duty is to your team.

Before all else, account for the people who spend the most time on the job-site: supervisors, subs, and inspectors. Though access is controlled, realistically your team will work unmonitored for significant periods of time without anyone to point out new hazards. Tactics such as daily job inspections easily document that you have proper safety measures in place at all times in response to ever-changing hazards.

Regain control over visits.

Homebuyers and real estate agents visit the job-site, too. What differentiates this group of job-site visitors from the first? Though you may expect a visit from them, their unplanned visits may catch you when you are offsite. The trick to regaining some control lies in turning unplanned visits into planned visits.

To diminish the risk of unplanned homebuyer visits, include site visitation rules in the homebuyer agreement. Such rules identify specific stages of construction when the general contractor will contact the homebuyer to arrange a visit and accompany the homebuyer to the site.

This strategy adds a layer of protection with real estate agents by coordinating similar agreements with them. For example, if a GC develops a number of lots within one subdivision, the agreement would ask agents to contact the GC for a recommended job-site to visit that is in a visitation-ready stage of construction. In anticipation of such requests, the GC can take added precautions on one specific lot to ensure a safe job-site visit.

Alongside these written agreements, employees and subs should be trained to alert either the GC or the supervisor when they spot an unplanned job-site visitor. Additionally, implement daily cleanups to ensure clutter or debris doesn’t become a risk if guests do come by unannounced.

Prepare for trespassers.

The final group of job-site visitors—trespassers—cause the biggest headaches and put your business at great risk. A house under construction can be a dangerous stimulus attractive to neighboring children and teens. Regardless of the fact that they may have trespassed, unwanted visitors can get hurt and hold a GC liable for injury. Under the doctrine of tort law, a civil suit could be filed against the general contractor regardless of fault.

It is paramount that caution signs are posted as a protective measure, warning people of the dangers. Remember that signs, unfortunately, do not eliminate liability, but think of signs as an additional line of defense to deter unwanted visitors.

Your “welcome mat.”

What kind of welcome mats are you laying out for homebuyers and agents? Does an unsteady plank leading from the dirt into the front door invite visitors to assume an unnecessary risk?

It’s important to ensure that every home has a sturdy entranceway as early as possible. If the home has a garage, block the front door with yellow tape and construct a sturdy entranceway through the garage. With the exception of inspectors, remember that these visitors know far less about the dangers of construction and the hazards it presents. Never assume a hazard should be obvious to the visitor. Even for those familiar with the hazards, such as inspectors, your attention to hazards could save a life.

For example, in Tennessee, a framing sub installed handrails at the direction of the GC. When the sheetrock sub’s employees removed the handrails to work, neither the sheetrock sub nor the framing sub reinstalled them. The GC’s supervisor failed to perform and document daily job inspections to address these hazards. During a walk-through, the city inspector—a husband and father of three—backed off an unprotected second-floor opening and fell to the concrete below, fatally striking his head. A lawsuit filed by the family of the inspector forced the inadequately insured sheetrock sub out of business.

The precautions you take to protect homebuyers, agents, and inspectors during their visits to a job-site may ultimately save a life and ensure that your business is secure.

Presume your visitor knows nothing.

With job-sites come many different types of visitors—each with a different level of understanding regarding the dangers of construction. Manage this risk by examining the hazards on a daily basis and getting the proper safety programs in place. Protect your site, protect your team, and protect your business.