Usually, a homeowner who hires an independent contractor can delegate the responsibility for safety to the contractor. The theory behind the rule is that when an owner hires an independent contractor—or when a prime contractor hires a subcontractor—the responsibility for the safety of the contractor’s employees belongs with the independent contractor, not with the person who hired the contractor.
There is an important exception to the independent contractor rule. The rule does not apply to contractors who are not properly licensed. A provision of the California Labor Code presumes that, for work that requires a contractor’s license, the unlicensed contractor is deemed to be an employee of the one who hires him and not an independent contractor. That can mean that the homeowner who hired the worker loses the protection of the independent contractor rule and can be held responsible for his worker’s safety, just as any other employer.
Recently the California Supreme Court held that a significant residential remodel, even one managed by an owner-builder and not by a professional contractor, was subject to the Cal-OSHA regulations. As discussed here, significant remodel is exactly the type of construction activity that OSHA was intended to regulate, and was not a “household domestic service” like tree trimming or home maintenance that was exempt from regulation. The Court’s ruling allows the unlicensed injured worker to proceed with his lawsuit against the homeowner, and to introduce into evidence the violations of Cal-OSHA regulations to establish the homeowner’s fault.