Why construction regulations are key to worker safety

Construction worker with a hard hat on smiling and happy at work

The health and safety risks intrinsic to nearly every construction project can be managed with careful planning, and by taking steps to comply with government regulations.

Worker safety on construction projects is normally the responsibility of several duty holders working in collaboration under a defined set of management rules.

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations of 2015 (CDM 2015) are the main set of guidelines for managing health, safety and welfare on construction projects in the UK. The regulations apply to all building and construction work, including new builds, demolition, refurbishment, extensions, conversions, repairs and maintenance.

"Cooperation and coordination are the keys to the successful application of the CDM regulations."

Kevin Boyle
Senior Safety, Health and Environment Advisor

The regulations affect all construction work, with clients being defined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) as “any individual or organisation that carries out a construction project as part of a business.”

Commercial clients have a crucial influence over how projects are run, including the management of health and safety risks, according to the HSE. Whatever the project size, the commercial client has contractual control, appoints designers and contractors, and determines the money, time and other resources for the project.

The HSE advises commercial clients to effectively manage a construction project by ensuring that:

  • other duty holders are appointed, where appropriate
  • sufficient time and resources are allocated
  • relevant information is prepared and provided to other duty holders
  • the principal designer and principal contractor carry out their duties
  • welfare facilities are provided

For a more detailed breakdown of the responsibilities of each duty holder in a construction project, visit the HSE’s Summary of Duties under CDM 2015.

Kevin Boyle, Senior Safety, Health and Environment Advisor with NatWest Mentor, says: “Construction is a higher-risk industry, and unfortunately every year there are thousands of people killed, injured or made ill during construction projects globally."

“The CDM 2015 regulations are in place to ensure the proper planning of the work, and to make sure a full assessment of hazards takes place. This helps to promote the safety of everyone involved in the construction project.”

CDM 2015 places duties on virtually everyone involved in the project, including clients, contractors, designers, and the workers themselves. And the regulations encourage a constant dialogue between the duty holders throughout the project, so that safety standards are constantly reinforced.

Know your CDM 2015 duties

It’s important to understand the responsibilities of other duty holders as well as your own, and each duty holder must be aware of their place in the ‘chain’ of responsibility.

“Cooperation and coordination are the keys to the successful application of the CDM regulations,” says Kevin. “A regular and consistent information loop is vital.”

It’s also important to remember that the HSE is a regulatory body with enforcement powers, including the authority to shut down a construction project for health and safety violations.

Kevin explains: “The HSE wouldn’t take these steps lightly, but they can issue a prohibition notice and stop the work if there’s imminent danger, or issue an improvement notice to make the site safe."

“If the HSE issues a notice and it’s ignored, they can look to prosecute. Officers carry the same powers as the police. It’s wise to cooperate with them and take action when asked to.”

HSE inspectors also carry out regular, targeted checks, during which they inspect sites for specific health and safety issues. Recently, for instance, they have targeted sites for the presence of harmful dust, and for unsafe manual handling procedures.

A moral obligation

As well as the legal requirements placed on duty holders by the regulations, Kevin suggests that there is also a moral obligation for everyone involved in a construction project to take the regulations seriously to help avoid injury or death.

He says: “An accident or death on a construction site can affect everyone on the site, their families, and members of the public too. The CDM 2015 legislation is a critical piece of guidance, which is key to ensuring that health and safety remains paramount in construction projects and that accidents are avoided."

“Construction will probably continue to be a higher-risk activity, but with proper planning of work, and careful assessment of the dangers, we can go some way towards ensuring safety on every site.”

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