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By: Safeopedia Staff
| Last updated: March 2, 2019

What Does Contractor Mean?

A contractor is any individual or organization that is hired to perform work for another individual or organization on a contract basis.

There are many different categories of contractors. However, when used without specification, the term usually refers to one of three types:

  • General contractor: Responsible for the overall management of a construction project
  • Subcontractor: Responsible for fulfilling only a specific portion of a contract
  • Independent contractor: Typically hired to perform a specific task, such as masonry

The occupational health and safety regulations that govern the relationship between contractors and employers vary considerably across jurisdictions.

Safeopedia Explains Contractor

Construction sites are among the most dangerous worksites in the world. This is especially true for contractors, who make up a disproportionate number of on-site fatalities.

OSHA reports that 21.7 percent of occupational fatalities in the United States occur within construction. These fatalities disproportionately affect contracted workers, who account for 17 percent of all fatal work injuries in the U.S. The UK’s Health and Safety Executive reports 31 percent of workplace fatalities as being construction-related.

Contractor Health and Safety Regulations

The International Labour Organization and other international bodies lack global requirements that specifically address the work safety and health of contractors and subcontractors. This has resulted in a lack of standardization in the employer-contractor relationship across jurisdictions and a lack of clarification regarding the responsibilities of each party.

According to OSHA regulations, as well as regulations in other jurisdictions such as Canadian provinces, a prime contractor is legally responsible for ensuring compliance with all safety rules and regulations in the workplace. However, additional regulations may result in the contracting employer retaining liability for workplace accidents or health and safety violations.

In 1992, a Canadian employer who lacked the expertise necessary to do a window-cleaning project hired an experienced contractor to do the job. When an accident resulted from the contractor failing to comply with occupational health and safety regulations, the employer was found liable for failing to ensure compliance, despite the contractor having been hired specifically for the superior expertise.

Employers have also faced criminal charges in Canada for failing to properly maintain equipment used by contracted employees.


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