Do You Really Want to Be Your Own General Contractor..?
Some readers may have noticed a somewhat obscure article in the Vancouver Sun on March 7, 2012 regarding a WorkSafeBC case involving former BC premier and current Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Gordon Campbell. Last year a roofing worker assisting with a renovation on Mr. Campbell’s summer home on the Sunshine Coast fell through an unfinished open skylight to his death 18 feet below. He was apparently wearing what’s termed a ‘fall arrest harness’ (which would normally keep him from falling if properly anchored to something solid) but his harness was not fastened to an anchor line. Mr. Campbell was censured by WorkSafeBC for not ensuring there were property safety practices in place on his jobsite, however the fact that it was Mr. Campbell’s home really has little to do with the story. The real story here is that in BC if you are building a new home or carrying out any kind of renovations or repair work on your property and do not designate one of the contractors (i.e. a “general” contractor) as the “prime contractor” on the job YOU will be considered as the prime contractor. Mr. Campbell unfortunately forgot to do this. In that unenviable position he was and YOU will then be held responsible for ensuring that all workers on the job comply with WorkSafeBC health and safety regulations and also be potentially financially liable for workers who are not registered with WorkSafeBC. This may sound a little absurd, as practically speaking how are homeowners supposed to be aware of all the WorkSafeBC regulations governing workers in the province? Nonetheless this is indeed the case.
Contained in the background to this unfortunate story is some very important information that all BC homeowners should be made aware of. Here are some key items that the ‘prime contractor’ on a job site, whether they are the designated ‘PC’ or the homeowner themselves, must ensure is present on the site. Firstly, there should be a written contract between the owner of the property and the directing contractor designating them as the “prime contractor”. This shifts the worksite responsibility from the homeowner to the PC. Together these two principals must ensure that there is a Notice of Project posted on site, with the various areas of worker responsibility outlined on it. The prime contractor must then appoint a ‘qualified coordinator’ to ensure the coordination of health and safety activities for the worksite and hold regular site meetings to ensure regulation compliance. Further, this coordinator must have assigned duties so that potential hazards are addressed and that clear communication exists between the prime contractor and its sub-trades in order to identify foreseeable site hazards and remedy them. Subcontractors must also provide the PC with the name(s) of the person(s) designated to supervise their respective workers. Lastly the prime contractor must have a system in place to ensure that regular inspections are carried out to minimize unsafe practices and conditions on the job site.
To be sure, the above “package’ could prove a daunting task to institute and maintain for a homeowner acting as a general contractor on his/her own build or renovation. After all, assuming he or she has a job or their own business to run, it is very likely that they would not be present on the job site for much of the day. And there are even more detail-oriented duties that the PC has to keep up with and monitor. As Mr. Campbell’s case clearly illustrates one should think long and hard before deciding to act as one’s own general or “prime” contractor on a home building or renovation project.
J. Neil Hamilton is a Senior Property Advisor with Macdonald Realty Ltd. with expertise in the buying, selling and leasing of both residential and commercial properties throughout the GVA. He can be reached at 604-569-1940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.