Q: I’ve always understood that design professionals aren’t responsible for jobsite safety, yet I continue to hear about design professionals who are brought into claims that involve unsafe conditions at a project site. Why does this happen and how can I manage this risk?
A: This question doesn’t have a simple answer, but we can provide a few important considerations and guidelines. The first is that since many design professionals aren’t qualified to address jobsite safety, it’s generally appropriate to state in your contract that you have no responsibility for safety. However, design professionals do have an obligation to protect your own employees while they’re on site. This is often accomplished by requiring those employees to follow the contractor’s site safety plan. You also have a general duty to protect the public health, safety, and welfare. Therefore, if you see and recognize an unsafe condition at your project site, it is your obligation to notify the party who is responsible for safety that the condition exists, and request that the responsible party address that situation appropriately. In circumstances where the danger is imminent (e.g., a worker is walking close to an unsecured trench and is at risk of falling), it is generally appropriate to warn that worker in a manner that is sufficient to avert immediate harm to that worker.
The Risk Specialty Group and RLI Design Professionals are pleased to feature our Contract Tip of the Week series. Each week, we’ll review a question submitted by a design firm relating to the subject of contracts. Keep in mind, though, that these discussions are general in nature and in making specific business decisions, it’s important to review your options with a knowledgeable attorney.