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Written by
on 23 August 2010


Construction Risk Management for Health and Safety

If it is accepted that good management involves;

  • The use of competent persons/organisations
  • The availability of background information
  • The pre-planning of work activities
  • The recording of crucial data
  • Reviewing work on completion to learn from mistakes and experiences

Then one needs look no further than the CDM Regulations for an ideal management model to follow (notwithstanding the statutory obligation to do so). Pragmatic application of the Regulations will bring business benefits as well as compliance and will also go a long way to achieving the aims of the ‘rethinking construction’ agenda.

The Approved Code of Practice for the CDM Regulations makes it very clear that the client has a major role to play in the management of risk. This is particularly so during the design stage when the tone of the project is often set by the client, and a number of important actions are carried through, for example,

  • Appointment by client of competent organisations
  • Provision of information
  • Provision of any existing Health and Safety Files

The Client may have little involvement during the construction phase, unless the site is an integral part of his business – or undertaking as the HSW Act calls it – when there will be an obligation to monitor the contractor to a greater extent. The law is complex in the area of monitoring and checking of those engaged to undertake work and has been largely determined by various landmark cases  (see Port of Ramsgate Case: ‘Ramsgate Walkway Collapse: Legal Ramification’ The Structural Engineer Vol 76, No 1, Jan 98 ).

Designers are, of course, at the heart of the process during the design stage; in most projects however they are also still involved during the construction phase, as not all design is complete prior to commencing on site. Their responsibilities however stretch beyond these phases into the operational life of the facility and its eventual de-commissioning.

It is the manner in which this responsibility for risk is managed that makes the difference between a mediocre designer and a good one. The latter will:

  • Think as a contractor or maintenance engineer when considering the risks introduced as a consequence of his design. (How would I wish to construct/maintain this item safely?)
  • Liaise with other designers, and if at all possible the contractor and specialist suppliers, in order to ensure that the best expertise is brought to bear and that issues are viewed from a broad perspective.
  • Consult with the client and end user, if known, in respect of assumed maintenance philosophies.
  • Have a particular regard to site wide issues (site access, contamination, adjacent third parties) and the adequacy of the site and its services for the contractor.

This holistic approach is often best implemented through ‘risk management’ meetings where all those present may contribute, and ‘thinking out of the box’ is encouraged.
The role of CDM Coordinators is largely one of Management; it is the duty of the CDM Coordinators for example to ‘ensure that designers communicate and co-operate’. The effective CDM coordinator therefore is able to significantly influence the management of risk and encourage best practice.

The role of Principal Contractor is wholly devoted to the management of risk. Although the duty holder will often also be the ‘main contractor’, and hence be involved in construction itself, there is no requirement for this. As is the case for the CDM Coordinator, the manner in which this role is implemented has a major impact upon the management of the project. A pro-active principal contractor that understands the needs and benefits of good health and safety management will bring the same added value to the project as has been described elsewhere. This is likely to be manifested through:

  • Regular meetings with sub contractors to discuss work activities, interfaces, access to the workplace etc.
  • Involvement of the workforce.
  • Review of accidents and near misses.
  • Provision of training and appropriate inductions.

Contractors, as employers in their own right, will have their internal procedures for managing health and safety risk, and are also obliged to liaise with other contractors and the principal contractor. The good contractor will see this obligation as a benefit rather than a burden, and will seek to gain advantage from close working relationships.

The essence of good management is clearly set out in the Management of Health and Safety at Work (MHSW) Regulations, Regulation 5 ‘Health and Safety Arrangements’ which emphasises that the arrangements should be integrated with management for other purposes. The four elements are, quoting from the Regulations:
Adopting a systematic approach which identifies priorities and sets objectives. Whenever possible, risks are eliminated by the careful selection and design of facilities, equipment and processes or minimised by the use of physical control measures.
Putting in place the necessary structure with the aim of ensuring that there is a progressive improvement in health and safety performance.

Ensuring that the decisions for ensuring and promoting health and safety are being implemented as planned.
Monitoring and Review:
Like quality, progressive improvement in health and safety can only be achieved through the constant development of policies, approaches to implementation and techniques of risk control.
It will be noted that although this advice is directed at health and safety issues, it will apply equally to any aspect of management eg ordering goods, employing sub contractors, programming the works. This again emphasises the benefits of treating health and safety risk as an integral part of project risk management.

Now here’s the summary

Construction projects are complex technological processes involving the management of people, processes and products. Although in respect of health and safety issues there is a legal obligation to manage the risks emanating from the project, this note demonstrates that there is a business advantage in doing so, and furthermore, that health and safety frameworks such as the CDM regulations, provide an excellent tool for achieving this overall aim.

Current industry initiatives such as Rethinking Construction are providing additional management tools in the form of key performance indicators and benchmarking standards in order to facilitate the essential monitoring and review associated with all good management systems.

Another article by Veritas Consulting Health and Safety Consultants


A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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