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Mind the Safety

20 July 2018

Majority of construction disputes revolve around issues of payment, but every now and then, you deal with a dispute which is the result of a project site health or safety related issue. Safety on project sites and in particular the lack thereof, can cause a project to come to a complete halt, and not to mention the costs implications it might have on both the employer and or the contractor.

Over the years I noticed that on projects, and especially projects that have continued beyond its envisaged completion date or long duration projects, people tend to neglect or fail to comply with site-specific health and safety requirements. Which is usually different from when the project commenced, when everyone was fully aware of their respective obligations and complied therewith faithfully.

In light thereof, I intend to deal with and want to give a brief overview of what should be taken into account when considering your duties and obligations related to occupational health and safety.

The Occupational Health and Safety Act and general safety regulations (“OH&S Act”) provides the perfect guideline, which further sets out the rights and duties of the respective contracting parties to a construction contract.

It inter alia provides that employees (which includes persons appointed and or employed by either the employer or the contractor) should be aware of the possible hazards it is likely to encounter on the project site, they should be trained on how to identify hazards and how to protect themselves or others against it. This should remain the case for any and every new employee appointed prior, after and during project duration.

To create the best awareness, it is important that all relevant parties participate in occupational health and safety decision-making.

What can be done to achieve project completion free from the possible risk of encountering a health or safety related accident?

The OH&S Act inter alia provides that (but not limited hereto):

  • periodic health and safety audits and document verification be conducted at intervals mutually agreed between the employer and the contractor, at least ones every 30 days;
  • a safe workplace must be provided (in the event this is not the case, any party or its employees should voice his/her concerns and refuse dangerous work);
  • policy statements regarding accident prevention can be created; and
  • medical and first aid systems must be provided.

An employer or its appointed site representatives must stop any contractor from executing a construction activity which poses a threat to the health and safety of others, especially if the contractor’s conduct and activity fails to comply with the employer’s health and safety specifications issued for the project and further the contractor’s own health and safety plan it had submitted for the project.

Sufficient health and safety information and the appropriate resources should be available to execute and achieve completion to a project, in a safe, accident free manner as expected.

The OH&S Act further provides that no contractor may allow or permit any employee or person to enter any site unless that employee or person has undergone a health and safety induction training pertaining to the hazards prevalent on the site. This requirement extents to any visitors to the construction site as well. The contractor must ensure that a visitor has the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE), where its required.

A competent person, who’s duty it is to ensure that all occupational health and safety requirements are complied with on site, must be appointed full-time. If the size of the project spreads over various sections, more than one such person or assistant must be appointed to ensure safety on site.

Considering the above, I hereby conclude that health and safety requirements on projects, should not be taken lightly. All relevant parties must endeavour to maintain thorough and faithful compliance of site-specific health and safety requirements, and to do so in the same manner it was likely faithfully complied with at the commencement of the project. Any neglect, laziness or failure, could unfold in a serious accident, which can result in a large disadvantage for the project, and further cause a negative impact on costs and time.

Author: Barry Herholdt