Many general contractors and property management companies hand over project sites to subcontractors and have little, if anything, to do with the construction work that occurs. However, under RCW 49.17, the Washington Industrial Safety and Health Act (WISHA), general contractors and some property management companies/owners are still responsible for workplace safety for the employees of their subcontractors and independent contractors.
The Washington Supreme Court held in Stute v. PBMC that a general contractor could be held liable for injury to a subcontractor’s employee sustained as a result of a WISHA violation. The Stute decision changed the landscape of workplace safety, imposing an expansive, per se liability on general contractors for workplace injuries. Stated differently, general contractors have a specific, non-delegable duty to ensure compliance with WISHA regulations, which extends to all employees on the project site. Washington courts have held that such “expansive liability is justified because ‘a general contractor’s supervisory authority is per se control over the workplace.’” Thus, the non-delegable duty requires general contractors to ensure care is exercised by anyone, even an independent contractor to whom the performance of the duty is entrusted.