A court ruling has determined that OSHA can hold a general contractor or “controlling employer” responsible for safety violations committed by a subcontractor on a multi-employer job site.

The ruling, made in November 2018 in the case of Acosta v. Hansel Phelps Construction Co. by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, overturns a precedent set in 1981 that OSHA regulations protect “only an employer’s own employees.”

In the case, OSHA had fined Hansel Phelps Construction $70,000 for a violation committed by a subcontractor’s subcontractor, CVI Development, on a construction site in 2014 under its “multi-employer citation policy,” a policy enacted in 1999 that states an employer having control over a work site “who should have detected and prevented a violation through the reasonable exercise of its supervisory authority may be cited for a violation, whether or not its own employees were exposed to the hazard.”

Phelps’ employees were not directly exposed to the hazardous condition created on the site, according to the court document. In 2017 the construction company appealed the ruling and won based on the 1981 precedent before the ruling was overturned in November.

The reversal court opinion was remanded to the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission for further proceedings.