Construction sites can be busy, complex and dangerous environments, with site workers, contractors, subcontractors, architects, deliveries, the client, and even members of the public all having an impact on the state of the site.
The site manager’s job covers many areas, but perhaps the most important of these is planning for and monitoring the health and safety of all those present at the site.
First-time site managers may be overwhelmed by the amount of rules and regulations that govern building sites, but the reality is that health and safety is largely common sense. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) provides a wide range of training and helpful worksheets, posters and guidelines to assist site managers in their duties.
Following recent changes to the law, all parties now have responsibilities that they must fulfil. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) apply to any construction project. The regulations, replacing the CDM 2007 rules, set out the duties of a “principal designer” and a “principal contractor” fulfilling the site manager role.
The site manager must coordinate everyone’s compliance with applicable legislation, to ensure that work is carried out only by trained and qualified people, using the correct equipment. Health and safety risks must also be identified, managed and the danger reduced, wherever it is reasonable to do so. These two responsibilities overlap where personal protective equipment (PPE) is concerned.
Personal protective equipment is controlled with a range of legislation, including PPE at Work Regulations 1992 and Personal Protective Equipment Regulations 2002. PPE is defined as anything that protects the wearer from injury or illness arising from health and safety hazards on site. PPE includes items that protect against specific job-related hazards, such as welders’ goggles, gloves and respirators, and general protective equipment, like hard hats and steel-capped boots.
It is the site manager’s responsibility to ensure that workers wear, and are trained in the use of, all PPE required for their safety. Workers should be told why they are required to wear the equipment, and the limitations of the PPE should also be explained. If gloves have a maximum safe temperature, for example, or are not suitable for use with certain chemicals, this should be made clear.
When multiple items of PPE are needed, it is important to check that all items can be worn together safely. A common example is checking that a combination of a mask, goggles and ear protection still provides an effective level of protection for all three items, and that wearing one doesn’t break the seal or otherwise make another piece of kit ineffective.
PPE must fit the wearer and also be kept in good working order, with regular inspections and maintenance as required. Depending on the nature of the job, it may be the worker’s responsibility to provide this equipment, or the duty of the site manager, but in either case, it must be worn.
If PPE is not worn, is faulty, or is inadequate for the job at hand, the job should not be carried out. No exceptions should be allowed, even for quick jobs. If there is any doubt as to the correct PPE to use, advice should be sought from the equipment supplier or from a specialist.
Workers also have a duty to report faulty or inadequate PPE, and to report any issues relating to the PPE’s use. If the job changes in scope, for example, or more dangerous equipment is needed than was originally planned, workers’ PPE needs should be reassessed.
If an injury occurs as the result of missing, faulty, incorrect or incorrectly-used PPE (or the injury is worse than it would have been if the correct gear had been worn), the injured worker may be eligible to make a claim for work accident compensation.
To claim compensation, the injury must have occurred as the result of someone’s negligence. Crucially, the negligent party must also owe the injured person a duty of care. A member of the public will not owe a site worker a duty of care, but a construction site’s principal contractor or the site manager is likely to owe a duty to workers on site.
If a site manager has failed to observe applicable PPE regulations, and someone on site is injured as a result, the manager could well be found to be negligent. Even if the right equipment has been provided, it’s the site manager’s duty to ensure the PPE is worn and used correctly.
If a worker is issued an item of PPE, decides not to wear it, and is then injured, a partial defence of “contributory negligence” may apply, where the injured worker is considered to have contributed to their injuries. The worker’s compensation award will be reduced as a result.
The goal of the PPE regulations isn’t to enable site workers to claim compensation if an accident happens. The goal is to reduce the number and seriousness of accidents on building sites. Likewise, good health and safety management should prioritise avoiding and reducing the severity of injuries, rather than avoiding liability.
It is not enough for a site manager to draw up a PPE health and safety plan at the start of a construction job and trust that this plan is followed. Site managers have a duty to monitor workers’ PPE needs throughout the project, and to adapt and evolve their approach as these requirements change.
Chris Salmon is operations director of personal injury expert Quittance