Contractor Liability: Training Your Employees Is a Tall Order

Liability lurks like an alligator waiting for trespassers to fall into its swamp. Many view the Environmental Protection Agency’s RRP rule as a nuisance, at best, and at worst an opportunity to be sued or fined.

Smart contractors have already skirted the first and most obvious liability sinkholes, by becoming individual Certified Renovators and earned an EPA firm certification. Next in the liability quagmire is training the firm’s employees.

As an EPA-accredited RRP training provider, I recognized early on EPA’s requirement that Certified Renovators must train their own employees in lead safe techniques, was a tall order. In short, they are expected to become overnight experts in teaching these lead safe work practices.

I’ve spoken about this dilemma with a number of attorneys. All agreed, if a firm fails to train their employees in lead safe work practices or fails to document the training, then the contractors are vulnerable to law suits and EPA fines.

The risk comes in two forms. First is civil liability, which is when a customer, neighbor, or some other aggrieved party sues the contractor. Lawsuits will inevitably include statements like, “not only did the workers not utilize lead safe work practices, but they were never properly trained to utilize lead safe work practices.” Allegations like these add to the contractor’s burden of proof; i.e., the firm must convince the court that it and/or its representatives, including subcontractors, conducted the renovation in accordance with municipal, state, federal regulations, and accepted industry practices.

The second area of liability is the EPA’s power to levy fines. Traditionally, the EPA has responded to citizens’ complaints. Currently, the federal agency is proactively auditing contractors’ records.

Just this week, a contractor asked for my assistance at an EPA audit of their records. The agency asked my client for documentation proving they conducted their renovations in a lead-safe manner and provided pre renovation education with the Renovate Right pamphlet. Because RRP regulations went into effect on April 22, 2008, my client’s audit included renovation jobs that in were conducted between 2008 and 2010.

An important part of the documentation that protects contractors from EPA fines and civil lawsuits relates to employee training. Remember, you must train your employees, but you cannot train your subcontractors. They must be trained and certified by an EPA accredited training provider.

Proper documentation of an employee’s (non certified worker’s) training should include: worker’s name, a description of the lead-safe work practices, and dates they were trained. Documents include a signed list of skill sets for; interior containment set up, interior cleaning with a HEPA vacuum that meets EPA’s definition of a HEPA vacuum, and knowledge of a two-bucket mop system. Training must include exterior containment techniques and cleanup. Workers must be trained in proper disposal techniques for waste, including how to dry decontaminate a goose necked bag and how to wrap large components. Last, but not least, the form must be signed by the Certified Renovator who conducted the training.

Certified Renovators may think training their employees and documenting the training is burdensome, but there are a couple of comprehensive and inexpensive training programs to assist them. Employee training programs are offered online the other on DVD. These educational offerings will no doubt train employees better, faster, and for less money than can be expected of someone whose experience might be limited to an eight-hour training program. Easy-to-complete training documentation forms are included some of the training packages. The DVDs are an excellent “How To” reference tool for Certified Renovators, while online training programs offered the benefit of final exams to help document proficiency.

When evaluating training programs, whether it’s a DVD or online, we recommend choosing one that has been professionally produced and provides hands-on demonstrations of lead-safe work practices, including tricks of the trade from contractors who are veterans in building containment.

Every coin has two sides, and complying with government regulations to avoid liability is only one side. If, by training your employees to Renovating Right, your firm successfully avoids liability, inevitably you have helped to protect families against lead poisoning. That’s the coin’s shiny flipside.

Please stay tuned to our next letter for more tips on how to turn environmental liability into opportunity. Until then, work smarter, better, faster and good luck in good business.

Francis Xavier (Rich) Finigan is the president the American Indoor Air Quality Assessment Services, an EPA accredited training provider. His background is in building, architecture, and applied environment science. Rich has a BS Environmental Science and was formerly the president of the national nonprofit (IESO) writing ANSI environmental standards. He is currently the educational director for www.seminars-online.net and may be reached at INFO @AIAQAS.com or 877-640-5140.

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