All parties involved in a construction project have legal duties under safety legislation. Some have more than one - for example, a client commissioning a project may also have a duty of care to employees or members of the public in their role as employer or landlord.
Most of the duties involved are straightforward, but care is required. While most duty holders are aware of the requirements involved, many are unaware of the nature and extent of the requirements involved. Part of this is that wording and language used to describe the actions required is very explicit and sets the bar for compliance to a very high standard. For example, requirements include actions such as 'to organize', 'to prepare', 'to ensure' and 'to take account of'. Surprisingly, many companies do not fully appreciate what this means in practice, and what needs to be done to ensure initial and ongoing compliance. Irish safety legislation is structured to place most of the onerous responsibilities on the key influencers for a construction project - for example, the client, designers and main contractor. It is also worth noting that directors and senior managers of a company may also have a personal liability in the event of a serious accident. A key consideration here is the decision-making process (or lack thereof) for the undertaking involved.
Critical considerations include information on the existing site or building, identification of high-risk activities from an early stage, and project timescale and works phasing. The aftermath of a safety incident or accident is not the time to find out. Construction projects are ever-changing environments, and things move and change rapidly. Establishing a strong and robust safety regime from an early stage can improve all aspects of how the project is managed. Moreover, ensuring high standards of safety in both design and construction will ensure full compliance with projects, not only in Ireland, but across the world.
The meaning of the wording used in legislation is important. ‘Control’ of a workplace, for example, can mean overall responsibility for safety within that work area for all persons, including workers, visitors and members of the public. Shared workplaces require a formal process of safety coordination.
In the event of a serious accident, the investigation will focus not only on the causes of the accident, but also the legislative responsibilities involved. What were the requirements under law? Who had responsibilities and were these properly discharged? Can this be demonstrated?
Client duties include both mandatory, as well as best practice, actions. A client company can potentially have up to 20 separate checks and actions for a new project. These include the appointment of competent persons for both design and construction stages, involving a range of parties including designers and safety coordinators, for both design and construction stages.
Clients must also assess the safety competency of everyone they appoint – designers, safety coordinators and contractors. Designers possess significant duties to eliminate and reduce foreseeable risks in their designs, cooperate with other designers and safety coordinators, and provide relevant supporting information. Competency, expertise and experience are, evidently, important factors.
Safety coordinators must also be appointed for the design process – the PSDP. Their functions are to ‘pull together’ the various design safety issues, and prepare the Preliminary Safety Plan and Safety File for the project.
The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) emphasizes that clients can, and should, have a major influence on the safe management of a construction project. This is supported by HSA publications, which go beyond the legal requirements and concentrate on industry best practice.
The design safety coordinator (PSDP), appointed by the client, is noted by the HSA as an important client safety adviser in this regard. Recent years have seen more of an emphasis by larger client companies on ensuring effective safety management on all projects undertaken by them. This stems from both their cultural identity, and their desire to extend best practice corporate safety procedures to all of their undertakings. Effective safety management during both design and construction means efficiencies in project management, programs, works phasing and handovers, as well as the safe operation of the completed project works.