Construction safety for self builders.

Construction safety - keep out sign


It is important to give construction safety the attention it deserves. The construction industry is inherently dangerous and although it has improved significantly over the last few years it still has a high rate of major injuries and recorded 42 work related deaths in the year 2009-10.

On this page we'll have a look at the statutory requirements for construction health and safety, how it is enforced and your obligations as a self builder.


Construction Safety: The Law

The main piece of legislation that governs Construction Safety is the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

The Act sets out the general duties which employers have towards employees and members of the public, and employees have to themselves and to each other.

The Act incorporates the principle 'so far as is reasonably practicable'. This allows the employer to assess the severity of the risks against the time, cost and practicability of reducing them in order to develop a measured response. The measures should be proportionate to the risk.

Secondary legislation or statutory instruments are produced to fulfill the requirements of the Act. These are known as regulations and there are many that apply to house building, including:

  • The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992.
  • The Construction (Design and Management) (CDM) Regulations 2007.
  • The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999.
  • The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002.
  • The Health and Safety (Consultation with Employees) Regulations 1996.
  • The Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE)

The Health and Safety Executive is responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of Health, Safety and Welfare in the Workplace.

In order to achieve this the HSE:

  • Carries out research.
  • Provides information and advice.
  • Promotes training.
  • Develops new or revised regulations and codes of practice.
  • Carries out inspections.
  • Investigates accidents and breaches of Health and Safety Law.
  • Enforces the law. (From issuing notices to criminal prosecution)

Their website is a useful resource and there are a number of free leaflets and guides available. The also have publications for sale through HSE Books, details of which are available on the HSE website. As a self builder your personal responsibilities for Health and Safety depend on your build route.

Principle Contractor

If you are appointing a package company or a principle contractor to oversee your build, then as a domestic client you do not have any duties under Health and Safety Law.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 are the statutory instruments that place an obligation for construction safety on all parties to a project, including the client. However, the regulations are aimed at commercial clients and they state that a domestic client has no duties under CDM. A domestic client is defined as someone who lives or will live in the property.

In this instance the designer and contractors still have duties under CDM. The contractor has responsibility for the Health Safety and Welfare of their employees and anyone working on site.

There is a responsibility for everyone on site to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others around them.

Whilst you do not have any legal responsibilities for Health and Safety we would suggest that it is still in your best interests to give it some attention. A contractor or consultant who is informed and diligent about their Health and Safety obligations will most likely be conscientious in the other aspects of their work. As part of you selection process ask your principle contractor about their Health and Safety procedures and their previous record.

DIY Project Management

If you are project managing your self build, employing trades directly and not using a main contractor, then again, as a domestic client you don't have any client duties under CDM.

However, as the person controlling the work on site, you do have duties under CDM which are proportional to the degree of control you have over the work. The duties cover physical safeguards which need to be provided to prevent danger.

The designer still has obligations under CDM and any tradesmen on site have responsibilities under applicable Health and Safety Law.

There is always a responsibility for everyone on site to ensure the health and safety of themselves and others around them.

What to do Next

If you are undertaking the project management of your build with little experience of construction project management and site safety then getting some professional advice should be your priority.

Ask your designer for help and contact the Health and Safety Executive for further advice on what you should do. They have an 'ask an expert' service and construction safety information is available on their website.

It is important to be aware of the hazards and risks on a building site and the methods for eliminating or reducing them. We would recommend that as a self builder/project manager, you should consider yourself as a small builder and use the HSE advice provided to them as a guideline for managing construction safety on your build.

A good start point is the HSE's 'Absolutely Essential Health and Safety Toolkit for the Smaller Construction Contractor' produced as a quick guide for small sites. More information can be found in their 'Construction' section.

At the very least you should:

  • Have a first aid kit on site.
  • Insist that people wear hard hats, reinforced toe-caps, high visibility vests and other appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). You can get these from your builders merchant.
  • Keep an accident book.
  • Provide a toilet.
  • Ensure safe storage of materials.
  • Do no allow children on site.
  • Provide a means of contacting emergency services and make sure everyone knows it is available.
  • Protect the public.

In the event that something does go wrong it is essential that you have adequate insurance in place. Information about self build specific policies can be found on our self build insurance page. Most insurers will send guidance notes for managing health and safety on site with their policy documents.

The safety of people on and around your site is a serious matter and the laws governing safety and welfare are subject to change as are the guidelines.

Speak to the HSE, your designer and take professional advice to make sure you have done everything required of you regarding construction safety on your self build project whatever build route you take.

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