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We share space with another veterinary practice. Are we responsible for their employees?

The simple answer is: probably.

One of the more recent trends in the veterinary community is the sharing of physical resources by several practices. Whether this sharing occurs as a central facility with "privileges" or where one veterinarian or team goes to an established practice and "rents space" or simply utilizes equipment, there are still some safety rules that must be followed. Then there’s the increasingly popular use of independent contractors for certain hospital positions (veterinarians, groomers, etc). OSHA calls these places multi-employer workplaces and all of these situations require additional actions by the leaders of the "main" hospital.

Since every business must conduct and document a hazard assessment of their respective areas as well as any "common" areas which contain hazards that may affect their staff members, that information must also be shared with other practice entities in the hospital. For instance, a dermatology referral practice renting space in a general practice must not only analyze the hazards to their staff members from within their own practice, but they must also analyze the hazards from the general practice (like exposure to waste anesthetic gasses or radiation). Likewise, the general practice must analyze not only their "areas" of the facility but take into account any hazards that may be specific to the dermatology practice but which may affect the general practice staff members. In this kind of situation, many hospitals will just establish and maintain a facility-wide safety program that all practice entities must follow as a condition of the lease.

When a hospital has employees from more than a single practice on-site, each practice (or entity) must ensure that information regarding the hazards that are present in the hospital and information on measures staff members must take to protect themselves is made available to the other practices in the hospital. This means that each separate business within the hospital must provide the others with a copy of applicable MSDSs, or make them available at a central location.

If there are any facility repairs or modifications that are necessary for safety compliance (such as exit signs or ventilation modifications), generally the entity with improvement or renovation authority will be expected to pay for those repairs or modifications. If according to the lease, the tenant is responsible for all leasehold improvements to the facility, then the tenant must make the applicable safety modifications. On the other hand, if the tenant must obtain approval from the owner or landlord for any facility improvements, then the owner is probably responsible for keeping the structure in compliance with safety standards.

When a hospital utilizes independent contractors or "leased employees" as staff members, OSHA will expect the hospital to act as the employer for safety matters, including the training of workers. The hospital must inform the contractor (like relief veterinarians and contract groomers) of any hazardous materials or situations that are likely to be encountered and require the contractor to do the same for any chemicals he or she brings into the workplace. Although these "permanent contractors" may technically be self-employed, OSHA will expect them to be as informed and trained as any other worker. In most cases, this means that the "permanent contractor" should undergo the same training program as regular employees. Additionally, if the practice exercises any control over the quality, quantity or nature of the contractor's work, OSHA would expect the practice to exercise control or authority over the safety actions of the contractor such as using appropriate personal protective equipment.

OSHA's Field Inspection Reference Manual (CPL 02-00-124 ) defines the way they handle citations and fines for multi-employer workplaces.  In multi-employer worksites, more than one employer may be citable for a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard. A two-step process is used in determining whether more than one employer is to be cited.

Step One. The first step is to determine whether the employer is a creating, exposing, correcting, or controlling employer. Remember that an employer may have multiple roles.  (NOTE: only exposing employers would normally be cited for General Duty Clause violations).

  • Creating Employer - The employer that caused a hazardous condition that violates an OSHA standard.
  • Exposing Employer - An employer whose own employees are exposed to the hazard.
  • Correcting Employer - An employer who is engaged in a common undertaking, on the same worksite, as the exposing employer and is responsible for correcting a hazard. This usually occurs where an employer is given the responsibility of installing and/or maintaining particular safety/health equipment or devices.
  • Controlling Employer - An employer who has general supervisory authority over the worksite, including the power to correct safety and health violations itself or require others to correct them. Control can be established by contract or, in the absence of explicit contractual provisions, by the exercise of control in practice. Usually the owner of the facility in the veterinary profession.

Step Two. If the employer falls into one of these categories, it has obligations with respect to OSHA requirements. Step Two is to determine if the employer's actions were sufficient to meet those obligations. The extent of the actions required of employers varies based on which category applies, but in most cases, the leaders of practices that share space with other businesses are still responsible for ensuring the other employers comply with OSHA
standards.  Employee exposure is the determining factor and in most cases, "I didn't cause that problem." is not an excuse to prevent a citation and fine.

To read more about OSHA's policies on multi-employer workplaces, review the latest directive by clicking here


Did You Know...?

Although OSHA has no regulatory authority over self-employed persons with no employees, a business that hires a self-employed person to work at their site must require the self-employed person to abide by the isafety rules to which the business is obligated.

In other words, a veterinary practice who utilizes the services of a relief veterinarian must require that relief veterinarian to follow all the OSHA rules while at their hospital even if OSHA has no jurisdiction over the relief veterinarian in any other situation.  The veterinary practice must still protect their employees in the workplace, even from risks created by non-covered persons.

To the extent that the self-employed person exposes other workers to their hazards, OSHA can and has cited the business who hired the worker for failure to maintain safety for their employees.