Health and Safety in the construction industry and COVID-19

One of the many issues facing those involved in the construction industry at the moment is what are the health and safety implications of COVID-19 and one of the key questions is what are the obligations of Client and the Principal Contractor under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (“the Act”) and the CDM Regulations 2015 (“CDM”) in respect of ongoing construction work?
 

The Client

If you are the Client:

  • You have a general overarching duty under the Act to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of all of your employees and anyone else affected by your undertaking – the latter will include construction workers working on projects under your control.  What is reasonably practicable will depend on the particular circumstances of each project, but it is important to bear in mind this duty.
  • Under Regulation 4(1) of the CDM a client must also make suitable arrangements for managing a project, including the allocation of sufficient time and other resources.  Most clients, particularly those who only occasionally commission construction work, will not be experts in the construction process. For this reason, they are not required to take an active role in managing the work. However, the client is required to make suitable arrangements for managing the project so that health, safety and welfare is secured – this will include arrangements setting out ‘how the client will take reasonable steps to ensure that the principal designer and principal contractor comply with their separate duties’.  In light of government and industry guidance you should seek assurance from the Principal Contractor that they are taking account of Government and industry guidance and implementing appropriate Site Operating Procedures to reduce the risk of on-site coronavirus transmission.
     

The Principal Contractor

If you are the Principal Contractor: 

  • Like Clients, you have a general overarching duty under the Act to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health safety and welfare of all of your employees and anyone else affected by your undertaking – the latter will include construction workers working on projects under your control.  What is reasonably practicable will depend on the particular circumstances of each project, but it is important to bear in mind this duty.
     
  • A principal contractor is the organisation or person that coordinates the work of the construction phase of a project involving more than one contractor, so it is carried out in a way that secures health and safety.
     
  • It is essential that you work with clients, designers and contractors to ensure that work is properly planned and completed safely and in accordance with the latest government and industry guidance in respect of Coronavirus.
     
  • A principal contractor has a specific duty to ensure that contractors under their control cooperate with each other so the risks to themselves and others affected by the work are managed effectively. This includes ensuring contractors who start work at different stages of the construction phase cooperate with each other so any information and instruction relevant for a new contractor to carry out their work safely is provided to them – this will include measures aimed at reducing the risk of infection.
     
  • Principal contractors do not have to undertake detailed supervision of contractors’ work but you might need to get some assurance that Contractors understand their obligations and have appropriate plans in place.

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