Risks to Keep in Mind When Changing from Single-Family to Multi-Family Construction


As more families continue moving to our region and buildable land becomes more scarce, many of our construction clients are finding themselves working on multi-family housing projects. The safety risks in these projects are different from single-family, so let’s look at ways to keep workers safe on these projects while reducing the risk of fines for safety violations.


From a small group of townhomes to a big condo development, multi-family projects are different and more complicated than single-family construction. To start with, they almost always involve more than one contractor due to the complexity of the build. These are multi-employer worksites, where all employers must work together to identify and control hazards to meet Washington standards for employee health and safety.


Most of us are familiar with general contractors and sub-contractors, but Washington state now defines four types of employers when it comes to safety on multi-employer job sites:


Four types of employers when it comes to safety on multi-employer job sites:

  1. The Creating Employer

    • Creates the hazardous condition that violates a DOSH standard.
  2. The Exposing Employer

    • Employs the workers exposed to a violation, regardless of whether that employer created the condition.
  3. The Controlling Employer

    • Is responsible, by contract or practice, for the safety and health conditions at the worksite and has the authority to correct the violation. The controlling employer must ensure that each contractor/subcontractor understands and agrees to follow the safety requirements in the contract.
  4. The Correcting Employer

    • Has the specific responsibility to correct violation conditions


In this system, the general contractor is held responsible for overseeing the overall health and safety on the worksite, even if the general did not contribute to the hazard and had no employees in the area. Property owners, project owners, and developers can also be held responsible for the safety of workers on the job site, again even if they never have their own employees on the site. It all depends on the employer hierarchy, degree of control exercised, and whether they control or create a hazard.


Therefore, it’s more important than ever for owners and general contractors to pre-qualify subcontractors before hiring them. The following guidelines could help.


Guidelines to Pre-qualify Subcontractors Before Hiring Them


You can’t control who other companies hire, but you can double-check each of your subcontractors’ work histories, incident rates, DOSH citations, Accident Prevention Program (APP), safety training, safety meetings, and insurance coverage. Take as many steps as possible to protect anyone working on the site, for both safety and liability purposes.



Address every potential safety hazard with subcontractors before construction begins, before new parties enter an in-progress worksite, and before new phases are started. This allows responsibilities to be divided equitably and gives each company a chance to highlight problems the others may have missed. The plan should identify site-specific hazards, safety precautions, and the responsible party; this information should be written into the site contracts.



Construction sites are constantly changing, so you have regularly conduct walk-around inspections to eliminate any hazards.  If you have several trades on-site, ask one of those trades people to walk with you. Walk-around inspections should be documented and conducted at the beginning of the job and weekly thereafter.


The responsibility of the controlling employer does not end with communicating required safety precautions or notifying the other employers about unsafe conditions or behavior. The controlling employer must do everything within his/her power, up to and including terminating the contract, to maintain a safe workplace and protect all employees on site.


Through cooperation and vigilance, all employers involved in a multi-employer worksite can maintain safety standards and protect employee health.




Here are some of the common safety hazards to look for on a multi-family housing worksite:

  • Fall protection

    • Are open-sided surfaces over 4’ guarded by standard railing or equivalent?
    • Is fall protection used when exposed a fall hazard?
    • Are wall openings less than 36” from floor guarded by standard railing?
    • Are floor openings (12” or more) guarded or covered?
    • Are stairways installed on all structures 2 stories or more?
    • Is there a guardrail and handrail on stairways with 4 or more risers or 30”?
    • Is a stair or ramp provided for a break in elevation of 19” and are ramps at least 18” wide?
    • Are ladders extended 3 ft beyond upper landing and used for purpose they were designed for?
    • Top of self-supported ladder used as step?
    • Are defective ladders marked and removed from service?
    • Ladders set up on unleveled or slippery surface not secured?
    • PIT designed to lift personnel on a work platform?
    • Elevated platform used safely? Fall Protection?
  • Scaffolding

    • Are scaffolds set up by qualified competent person and set up on firm footing?
    • Scaffold work platform fully planked and provided with safe access?
    • Scaffold over 10’ is fall protection provided and guardrail system meets the requirements?
  • PPE

    • Are individual hard hats available on site and used when exposed to flying or falling objects?
    • Is proper eye, face, and footwear worn?
    • Is suitable clothing -short sleeved shirt and long pants worn?
  • Tools and equipment

    • Table saws properly guarded? (hood, spreader, anti-kickback)
    • Are hand-held power circular saws, radial-arm saws, and power miter saws properly guarded?
    • Is the muzzle safety return spring in place?
  • Electric power

    • Do extension cords have ground pin, strain relief device, and free of improper splices?
    • Are multi-outlet J-Boxes waterproof?
    • Equipment operated within 10’ of power line/distribution equip.?
  • Miscellaneous

    • Are dump truck safe backing procedures followed?
    • Back-up alarm on equipment operating on site? (spotter used?)
    • Are first-aid supplies available on-site with first-aid certified persons on site?
    • Is proper housekeeping maintained at the jobsite?
    • Are toilets provided and maintained and is there an adequate supply of potable water?