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Health and safety on site

Date posted: 27 July 2015

Recent years have seen significant improvements in reducing the number and rate of injuries to construction workers, thanks to health and safety taking a higher priority. Despite this, however, a number of serious issues continue to affect the health of construction workers, and these can have devastating consequences for individuals and their families.

We take a look at some of the key health and safety risks, and how you can manage them.

Most fatal injuries in the construction industry actually occur on smaller building projects involving the refurbishment of existing homes and workplaces. More than 60% of those deaths involve falls from a height - such as from ladders, scaffolds, working platforms, roof edges or through fragile roofs. Other fatal injuries on smaller projects result from the collapse of excavations, during lifting operations, or due to contact with electricity and mobile plant.

This makes health and safety planning and execution vital even for self-builders and 'smaller' builders - those working on private domestic projects or smaller building projects (where construction work lasts fewer than 30 days).

What do you need to do?

You must be competent to carry out your work safely, and you should never accept work for which you do not have the necessary health and safety competency. The law also requires small builders to:

  • manage hazards and risk: plan, manage and monitor the construction work so it is carried out safely and without posing risks to health; 
  • inform and train your workforce: provide relevant information and training on risks, precautions and rules; and
  • co-operate with the client or home occupier: the business client has legal duties and is obliged to co-operate with you and have arrangements for managing the work; it is also important to work closely with the home occupier to meet your site safety responsibilities.

Manage hazards and risk

As a smaller builder, you are a contractor under Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) 2007 and therefore need to plan, manage and monitor your building work to ensure health and safety risks are under control. You will need to set lead times, for example – informing any sub-contractors of the minimum amount of time that will be allowed for planning and preparation. You are also responsible for preventing any unauthorised people from accessing the construction site. And you will also need to arrange welfare facilities for your workforce, including toilets and washing facilities; drinking water; somewhere to rest, eat and drink; and changing rooms and lockers –  – although the specific requirements depend on the size, location and type of project.


It goes without saying that you need to ensure your workforce is armed with all the information and training necessary to carry out their work safely. They will need site induction; details of site rules and emergency procedures; and information about any risks identified in assessments, and the necessary precautions to take.

Cooperating with the client / home occupier

Business clients have safety responsibilities on even the briefest of projects and will need to check the arrangements made by the smaller builder for managing the work.

When it comes to home occupiers, the smaller builder and occupier are united in their wish to ensure the building work does not place residents in danger. Discussing plans and working to co-operate closely will help to achieve this - so, for instance, you will need to leave the construction area safe at the end of each working day to ensure residents are not put at risk throughout the project.

Find out more about your legal responsibilities

The HSE's page, "Health and safety in the construction industry", offers a wealth of accessible and useful information for those involved in construction. This ranges from looking at managing the health and safety essentials right through to considering specific building-related health issues – such as dust, noise and vibration exposure; the potential risks of manual handling and repetitive work; controlling hazardous substances; and much more.

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