A general contractor on a residential project was responsible for the safety of its subcontractors even though it was not on site at the time of an incident.

The general contractor objected to two compliance orders issued to him under the Nova Scotia Occupational Health and Safety Act, arguing that it was “not his work that was at issue, and therefore not his responsibility”.

The general contractor had entered into a handwritten contract with a homeowner to do renovation work. The contract included the following among 11 areas of work to be done: “supply general contractor services for chimney repair re a separate service to this contract”.  He then obtained four quotes for the chimney work and retained one subcontractor to do that work.  He showed the subcontractor around the property and gave him a key so he could access the bathroom.

The Labour Board found that there was an agreement that the subcontractor could use staging that the general contractor had on site as part of his contract, and that the general contractor would act as “paymaster” for the subcontractor.

An occupational health and safety officer with the Nova Scotia government visited the job site in response to an anonymous complaint. He noted a number of safety issues including roofers working without adequate fall protection on improperly erected scaffolds.  He issued compliance orders to the general contractor.

The Labour Board held that the compliance orders were justified. The officer had reasonable grounds to believe that it was the general contractor’s worksite over which he had overall responsibility.  The handwritten agreement supported this: it referred to “general contractor” duties.  The subcontractor and his employee stated that they regarded the general contractor as their “boss”.

The Labour Board determined that the general contractor was “inclined to distance himself from [the subcontractor] after the situation became problematic and he realized that he was going to be held partly responsible. Had the chimney work turned out well, [the general contractor] might well have taken credit for it.”

Yvan Haince v. Director of Occupational Health and Safety, 2016 NSLB 28 (CanLII)