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Q: I am a director of a small house building company that uses multiple subcontractors, what are my safety responsibilities?

A: Builders must provide the degree of supervision necessary for work on their sites to be carried out safely and without risks to health. The Work Health and Safety Act 2011 requires builders, and other employers, to provide information, training, instruction or supervision that is necessary to protect their workers from health and safety risks arising from their work.

In order to comply with work health and safety law, the supervision provided by the builder must be effective, meaning that it should be clearly delegated, competent and timely.

The builder’s own workers need supervision. So do the builder’s contractors and their workers. Even though the contractor will also have responsibility for their workers, these are also the builder’s workers. Visitors to a site also need supervision

Site supervision means the general direction, coordination and oversight of the on-site work processes. In particular, supervision on housing construction sites involves:

  • deciding when particular contractors or phases of the construction process can commence, and when it is necessary to suspend a process;
  • providing the necessary coordination and general instruction for work associated with one process so as not to endanger persons engaged in other processes;
  • upon becoming aware of a dangerous work practice or situation, issuing prompt directions necessary to safeguard site personnel and/or the general public from harm upon becoming aware of a dangerous work practice or situation; and.
  • monitoring the general conduct of work for compliance with the builder’s and/or contractors’ work health and safety procedures and safe work method statements if required.

The builder’s contractors also have a duty to provide the necessary degree of supervision to their workers to enable them to perform their work in a manner that is safe and without risks to health.

For supervision to be effective, the supervisor should have the clearly delegated authority of the builder to:

  • make prompt decisions on behalf of the builder;
  • issue directions on matters that could adversely affect the health or safety of on-site personnel or the general public; and,
  • act on the builder’s behalf in discharging the builder’s on-site work health and safety responsibilities.

Supervision is competent when the supervisor has a general:

  • knowledge of the work health and safety rights and responsibilities of the builder, and of those engaged on site, or providing goods or services to the site;
  • understanding of the construction sequences, processes and work practices associated with the type of construction being undertaken at the site; and,
  • awareness of the hazards and risks associated with the types of materials, chemicals, plant and equipment used at the site, and an understanding of the minimum controls necessary to safeguard site personnel and the general public from harm.

Safety supervisor training courses are available at MBA ACT.

Supervision is timely when:

  • the supervisor monitors on site work practices, processes and procedures; and,
  • delivery drivers, contractors and workers can seek and obtain the supervisor’s direction in the event of uncertainty on what is required to safeguard health and safety.

Whilst the supervisor’s physical presence on site is the optimum way of ensuring timely supervision, full-time on-site supervision may not always be necessary.

Between site visits, supervisors can continue to exercise timely supervision by phone, email, and/or two-way radio communication.

If the usual supervisor knows they will be uncontactable for a short period, arrangements should be made with key site personnel to effectively delegate urgent decision-making responsibility and supervisory responsibilities pending the supervisor’s return to availability.

To avoid doubt, it is recommended that supervisors keep brief but clear records, such as:

  • diary notes of site visits and verbal instructions; and,
  • copies of any written site directions issued.

A person conducting a business or undertaking needs to ensure that members of the public are not exposed to risk arising from the construction site. Unauthorised entry to construction sites may expose a person to a number of hazards that, if not controlled, could result in the likelihood of fatalities or serious injuries.

  • Where uncontrolled hazards are present on a site, there is a requirement that exposure to those hazards be addressed. Where this does not occur, it is expected that persons will not be exposed to those hazards. This information page seeks to assist builders by explaining how a builder can ensure that entry to a site where uncontrolled hazards are present is restricted so that workers and members of the public are not exposed to hazards on a construction site.
  • When a risk assessment identifies the need to isolate particular site hazards and the only way of achieving this is with perimeter fencing, the installation of a fence, either permanent or temporary, which is maintained until the work activity on the site no longer presents a risk to unauthorised entrants, will assist the builder in meeting their duty of care obligation. An unauthorised person is more likely to comply with a physical barrier such as a fence than a warning sign.

The purpose of the sign is to provide information about what building work is happening, or proposed for the site, and the licensed people who will be doing the work.

The sign provides information about who is working on the site and how to contact them if need be.

The sign is separate to any development application process if required. If a development application was required, then a separate development application sign would have been placed on the block. The development application process is an opportunity for the community to comment on the proposed development.

A sign is required even if a development application was not required due to it being an exempt development.

The signs will provide quick and easy identification of the building work site to emergency services personnel.

The signs will also allow the community to report suspected theft or equipment damage happening on site to the builder or certifier.

For particular types of development, the sign must be erected for seven consecutive days in a two month period before applying for a commencement notice. The types of development that require the sign to be erected before applying for a commencement notice are large garages, single dwellings, including alterations, and demolition of single dwellings.

The sign must:

  • be at least 600mm x 900mm, either landscape or portrait;
  • contain the words ‘Notice about building work’ in bold typeface at least 50mm high;
  • be made of durable material; and,
  • be placed prominently so that it can be seen and read easily from each frontage of the parcel of land on where the building work is taking place (this may mean that more than one sign is required, for instance if the site has multiple street frontages a sign is required for each street frontage).

If there are multiple licensed builders for the building work, and the building work is not exempt from needing a building approval, then the details of each builder are required to be on the sign.

Examples of when a sign is required include:

  • building a single dwelling that has a development application (the sign must be displayed while the work is being carried out);
  • building a development application exempt single dwelling (the sign must be displayed for seven consecutive days in a two-month period before applying for a commencement notice and must be displayed while the work is being carried out);
  • demolition of a single dwelling and building a single dwelling that both have a development application (the sign must be displayed while the work is being carried out);
  • development application exempt demolition of a single dwelling and building a dwelling that requires a development application (the sign for the demolition component must be displayed for seven consecutive days in a two month period before applying for a commencement notice for the demolition then when work commences on building the new dwelling the sign must be displayed while the work is being carried out);
  • development application exempt demolition of a single dwelling and building a development application exempt single dwelling (the sign must be displayed for seven consecutive days in a two month period before applying for each commencement notice and must be displayed while the work is being carried out);
  • a development that includes a development application exempt garage but not building approval exempt (the sign must be displayed for seven consecutive days in a two month period before applying for a commencement notice and must be displayed while the work is being carried out); and,
  • fit outs that require a building approval (the sign must be displayed while the work is being carried out).

Templates for the sign are available on the WorkSafe ACT Website

Builders must provide, or have access to, adequate amenities for construction sites to ensure the health, safety and welfare of their workers and others using their sites.

In order to comply with work health and safety laws, the amenities provided by the builder must be adequate, accessible and timely.

Amenities are those facilities provided for a construction site to provide for the health, safety and welfare of persons working on that site and include:

  • meal and shelter facilities;
  • toilets;
  • washing facilities; and,
  • drinking water.

The provision of amenities that are reasonably practicable should take into account the:

  • location of the site;
  • nature of the work to be done;
  • number of workers; and,
  • availability of power and services.

The builder should plan for:

  • the safe and convenient location of amenities;
  • positioning and construction to prevent external flooding;
  • clear access to amenities at all times;
  • hygienic and safe discharge of wastewater;
  • clean and sanitary amenities; and,
  • adequate natural and/or artificial lighting for safe access and use of amenities.

Enclosed amenities should be of sound construction and weatherproof, with adequate ventilation and lighting.

The builder, contractors and workers should consult with each other to determine the type and extent of any additional amenities to be provided on a particular site.

The builder should provide hygienic and weatherproof meal and shelter facilities in an area accessible to the building under construction at the earliest opportunity such as in the garage or similar covered area.

These facilities should include:

  • adequate seating which could include a board across two trestles and other alternatives to chairs;
  • a clean surface upon which to place food which could include an esky provided by the worker or subcontractor or other material owned or controlled by the relevant subcontractor; and,
  • a rubbish bin with a lid or appropriate alternatives for the hygienic disposal of food scraps.

At the initial stages of construction, but only until an adequate area can be made available, shelter may be provided in the form of contractors’ vehicles.

Workers must have access to conveniently located toilet facilities. Where the toilet is not connected to the sewerage system, self-contained fresh water flushing portable toilets should be provided that are regularly serviced in accordance with the supplier’s information and instructions, but not less than monthly.

To provide an acceptable standard of hygiene and privacy, the toilet must be:

  • kept clean;
  • weatherproof;
  • well-lit and well ventilated, either naturally or artificially;
  • provided with a hinged seat and lid;
  • provided with a door which can be locked from inside;
  • provided with a well-drained floor above ground level that is covered with a durable waterproof material;
  • provided with a plentiful supply of toilet paper; and,
  • set up to remain level and stable under all working conditions.

Toilets may be shared between sites if:

  • the sites are under the control of the same builder or there is clear agreement between the builders;
  • the toilets are convenient and readily accessible to the workers on each site; and,
  • there is at least one toilet per ten workers.

Where female workers are present on site, appropriate measures for sanitary item disposal should be made, such as a disposal unit provided in the portable toilet or sewer connected toilet closet.

Hand washing facilities within or adjacent to each toilet or urinal should be provided. Clean water and soap should be provided for the purposes of washing.

A readily accessible and plentiful supply of drinking water must be available to all workers on the site.

The site water tapping, complete with hose bib-tap, should be installed at the earliest opportunity.

Where a mains water supply connection is not possible, drinking water may be provided using flasks, labelled water containers, water bags or similar. However, mains water supply should be provided at the earliest possible time.

Drinking water facilities must be separated from toilet facilities to ensure adequate hygiene.

Every week, construction workers are injured seriously enough to stop work because basic site safety and housekeeping is not up to scratch. These injuries might not be life threatening, but they are painful, costly, and the effects can be permanent, making it difficult to work in the future. They’ll hurt their back or neck, tear a ligament, cut themselves or break a bone.

Poor supervision, and particularly poor housekeeping, is often to blame. Workers might cut open a leg on an off cut, trip over building rubble or strain a knee stepping backwards off a plank. Construction sites present serious difficulties. Only the most rigorous supervision and the cooperation of all workers can keep the site free from tools, bolts, planks, (including upturned nails) and other objects likely to cause serious accidents.

Good housekeeping doesn’t just happen. Everyone on site needs to do their bit. It’s time to get back to basics.

Ensure housekeeping is included in all work activities, from planning through to start up and completion.

Contracts – State in the contract that each trade is responsible for cleaning up after themselves and that penalties might apply if they don’t.

Site rules – Before work starts, develop site rules that include housekeeping responsibilities, and make sure everyone on site knows them.

Safety plans – Ensure the site layout supports good housekeeping such as designated delivery and storage areas, waste management, walkways and vehicle parking.

Once the site is established, proper supervision is critical to ensure everybody follows the site rules.

Principal contractors play an important role in ensuring the orderly conduct of construction work. The principal contractor needs to implement and maintain safe housekeeping practices, including:

  • appropriate, safe and clear access to and from the workplace;
  • safe systems for collecting, storing and disposing of excess or waste materials;
  • adequate space for the storage of materials and plant; and,
  • an adequate number of safety signs that are kept in good condition.

Appropriate signs may include signs about:

  • the direction to the site office or site amenities;
  • where first aid and fire extinguishing equipment are kept;
  • the means of access must be kept clear;
  • where hazardous substances are kept;
  • who the principal contractor is;
  • head and foot protection must be worn; and,
  • authorisations required for the site.

Relevant people must:

  • implement and maintain the safe housekeeping practices that apply to their work;
  • manage risks from protruding objects such as exposed nails or vertical reinforcing steel;
  • monitor the work and fix any problems;
  • ensure contractors and visitors know who the site supervisor is;
  • ensure the supervisor is available and contactable;
  • ensure all workers and visitors receive a site induction; and,
  • ensure the site is maintained in a tidy condition.

Anyone should be able to safely access or work on site. Regularly inspect your site to ensure contractors are following the rules, including keeping the workplace tidy and correctly storing materials.

For further information, visit WorkSafe ACT website, or download the ACT Codes of Practice –œ ‘Managing the Work Environment and Facilities’ and ‘How to manage Work Health and Safety Risks’. All ACT and national Codes of practice can be found here

If you have any WHS related enquiries, please don’t hesitate to contact us on (02) 6175 5900.