Following two major accidents late last week, Boston contractor Suffolk Construction halted operations at all of its job sites and called for a “safety standdown” in order to review safety concerns.
Suffolk is currently the general contractor for over 30 construction projects across the greater Boston area, which were shut down for a voluntary safety review beginning May 6. Fortunately, workers were reported to be back on the job Tuesday, May 11, after the remaining projects in the Boston area were deemed safe to return to.
For contractors involved in these projects and other projects across the country that experience safety-related shutdowns, many may be left wondering if these safety-related shutdowns could impact their ability to get paid.
Boston-area contractors have seen a number of safety concerns in recent months
Last Wednesday, a building collapsed at one of Suffolk’s work sites at a former Boston power plant. Crews were reportedly removing asbestos from the building when it collapsed, injuring three workers. The next day, a worker at a separate Suffolk site fell 30 feet, but is fortunately expected to survive.
These incidents come just weeks after a portion of the Boston Government Center parking garage collapsed, killing one construction worker and injuring another.
In a report issued last month, the Massachusetts Coalition for Occupational Safety and Health found that the construction industry made up 30% of the 62 worker fatal injuries in the state in 2021 — the highest of any industry.
Following the April and May incidents, Suffolk announced on Thursday, March 6, that it would pause work for two days across all of its job sites in order to conduct a “comprehensive review and evaluation of existing safety standards and procedures.” This pause was then extended until the sites were declared safe to open, and workers were back on the job by May 11.
Suffolk is cooperating with investigators — although the Suffolk District Attorney has not found any immediate evidence of criminal conduct, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is preparing a six-month investigation and probe of the job sites where the accidents occurred.
Safety issues can cause problems down the payment chain
Construction is a dangerous industry. While things have certainly come a long way, it’s important to remember that safety concerns can have a major impact on the payment chain. Even an accident can cause significant delays, hold up payments, and result in severe financial penalties from OSHA.
Depending on the type of violation, a company can be hit with penalties of $14,502 per day from OSHA if the violation is not remedied.
Suffolk is one of the world’s largest contractors and can provide fantastic opportunities for smaller subcontractors to keep the project pipeline full and grow as a business. But even the largest companies are susceptible to safety issues — according to OSHA’s enforcement data, there have already been two companies hit with penalties of over $1.2 million this year alone.
Even a short shutdown like the Boston-area projects experienced can cause significant issues for a project’s schedule, and can throw a wrench into the payment chain. In situations like these, it can be helpful for contractors to be proactive about securing the right to payment. Investigations and delays can drag on and may not resolve quickly on their own, so it’s best to be prepared.
“First and foremost, contractors should look to secure payment for any work already performed before the ripple effects of the shutdown begin to manifest,” said Alex Benarroche, construction attorney and legal Associate at Levelset. “Contractors should also assess and document the status of the work as completed.”
“The downtime on the project will likely lead to delay claims for additional costs and/or time to complete their scope of work,” continued Benarroche. “And in order to make such claims, the terms of their contract will typically outline the required notices and procedures that must be followed.”
“Lastly, if the project is shut down for an extended period of time, then the last date they performed work should be noted to monitor any upcoming lien or bond claim deadlines if payment disputes arise,” Benarroche said.
It’s not clear to what extent Suffolk’s “safety standdown” has continued into this week, but with OSHA scrutiny expected to last many months, subcontractors should do what they can now to protect their right to payment later.
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