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Inspecting Construction Sites: a role for clients?

Conflicting opinion over the level of involvement required on site may leave clients unsure of their duties. Here, we take a look at the various rights and responsibilities outlined in construction industry regulations and guidance notes.

A recent report by Nick Bell in Safety and Health Practitioner (the official journal of the IOSH – the Chartered body for health and safety professionals) highlights the fact that the level of client involvement in site health and safety is far from clear. The report stated, “When it comes to construction work performed by contractors, organisations such as the Office of Government Commerce and the Construction Clients Group advocate that the client, or ‘integrated project teams’ (which include the client), should carry out spot checks and site visits” Bell cites the Olympic Delivery Authority, as an example of where CDM coordinators are used to undertake quarterly assurance checks.

However, confusion sets in when you dig a little deeper. The Approved Code of Practice to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 establishes no need for clients to visit sites in any kind of supervisory role and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) asserts that health and safety on site is the responsibility of the contractor; clients via their design/construction team need only ensure that project management arrangements are in place and being correctly maintained.

So far so good. However, the HSE’s guidance on the management of contractors includes clients in the list of parties responsible for monitoring the health and safety performance of contractors and, as far as fire safety is concerned, HSG168 (Fire Safety in Construction) points to the fact that if the client’s activities and those of the contractor ‘overlap’, the client might need to become involved in the ‘operational management’ of sites.

Nick Bell points out that, “What this means is that where there is likely to be frequent interface between contractors and client operatives the client must ensure that adequate arrangements are in place to protect its own staff, in line with section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974 (HSWA)”. He adds that some clients have been successfully prosecuted under the Act for failing to meet these requirements.

The report concludes that clients “need to make a judgement about the degree of monitoring that they ought to undertake.”  Factors that would lead to the need for a greater level of monitoring are cited as:

  • any work that could pose a threat to the safety of the client’s employees;
  • the client’s business operations expose the contractor to risk; or
  • the client has specified specifically how the contractor undertakes particular aspects of the works.

Factors that decrease the amount of monitoring required include:

  • specialist works;
  • the work is distant, or completely segregated from the client’s staff and operations; and
  • the client has had to exert little, or no control over the contractor’s plan of work.

New case law is disproving the assumption that on-site monitoring is always the responsibility of the contractor.  Clients need to understand their legal duties and obligations – if they do not, clients risk leaving themselves exposed. So take advice to ensure that all points are covered. 

If it is vital for a client to keep business operations live while the construction/refurbishment  project goes ahead and this is likely to lead to potential clashes between your operation and the contractors, this must be planned and managed. Similarly, if a project is complex and risky, clients may like the assurance that someone competent is checking up on the contractor. Enter the CDM coordinator. The key word here is ‘competent’.  Where a client appoints someone to act on his behalf, that person needs to be experienced and knowledgeable about the construction process and health & safety law.  CDM Co-ordinators are ideally placed to provide this service – and will be happy to advise clients on how extensive that service needs to be, depending on the scope and value of the works in question. Contact Watts for more information.

To read the full version of Nick Bell’s article, go to www.shponline.co.uk or for more information contact John Wrightson, Associate in Watts’ Bristol office on 0117 927 5800.

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The Watts Bulletin is the technical companion to the Watts Pocket Handbook, the essential guide to property and construction, as used by professionals since 1983.

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