29 Sep 2015

Safety first

Chartered Safety & Health Practitioner, Louise Hosking – Director at Hosking Associates – explains why new regulations enforced earlier this year place greater responsibility on homeowners to ensure project health and safety standards are being met.

The construction industry has the largest number of occupational cancer cases, with 3500 deaths and 5500 new cancer registrations each year. Skin and lung cancer are particular problems, often caused by working with asbestos, silica and paint, and from prolonged exposure to diesel engine exhaust emissions and UV radiation.

On 6 April 2015 the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) came into force. The majority of CDM previously applied to the commercial sector, however statistics tell us it’s the smaller jobs where most people are being harmed. CDM covers construction, alteration, renovation and maintenance, which now includes work by contractors in domestic homes. The regulations set legal standards for site safety arrangements, including the provision of adequate welfare facilities. Duty holders are identified as project homeowners, contractors and designers.

The regulations recognise that members of the public commissioning work on their own homes cannot be held accountable in the same manner as commercial clients. Duties are still there, but usually transferred to the Principle Contractor – or contractor if there is only one.

Homeowner responsibilities

In most cases, all domestic clients should be concerned with is appointing the Principal Contractor (PC) and Principal Designer (PD) in writing, and ensuring the Health and Safety file is provided at the end where there is more than one contractor involved in the project. My advice is to receive a commitment from the PD or PC, in writing, to ensure the file will be provided within a reasonable time of the project being completed.

However, homeowners who actively choose not to cooperate with their builder’s efforts to work safely could be held responsible – especially if they give an instruction, contrary to good advice, which later leads to an incident.

Prioritising health and safety

At the end of 2014, the HSE commissioned research that asked homeowners how they choose their contractors. The results found that very few mentioned safety. Attitudes need to change, because if they are looking to sell – having completed a new bathroom, conservatory or extension – and the purchaser requests a Health & Safety file which has never been created, there is potential for delays or even complications with the sale.

The aim of the new legislation is to make everyone think before a spade is put into the ground, a wall is brought down, a new basement propped, or a surface of unknown construction drilled. If followed, there should be fewer surprises along the way.

There is a cost to greater safety and supervision, but if you come to sell in a few years’ time only to find no file for your amazing self-build or fabulous extension, it may cost you considerably more.

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