The Occupational Safety and Health Act generally requires employers to mitigate exposure of their own employees to workplace hazards. In limited circumstances, companies can be cited for OSHA violations even if the only people exposed to the hazards are employed by another entity. The best known example of this principle is the multi-employer worksite theory, under which OSHA regularly cites general contractors for safety violations affecting subcontractors’ employees at construction sites.
Another less frequent example of multi-employer liability arises in the landlord-tenant context when the landlord engages in maintenance or other activities that expose a tenant’s employees to hazardous substances. For example, when answering questions about its asbestos exposure standard, OSHA stated that landlords who engage in improper asbestos removal or asbestos disturbing activities can be cited if their tenants’ employees come into contact with asbestos fibers.
Landlords have an obligation under the OSH Act to warn tenants about possible asbestos disturbing activities, install markings and warnings about entering areas where such exposure may occur, and use asbestos removal contractors that follow exposure control requirements. Tenant notices and instructions should be in writing and should be preserved in the event that a tenant’s employees later contend that they were not provided warnings with regard to potential asbestos exposure.