Could Health and Safety Regulations Shut Down Your Project?

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Dr. James Thornhill is a health and safety academic and consultant with more than 20 years of experience. He is our preferred health and safety consultant and is responsible for the smooth, safe running of many of our most successful projects.

We asked Dr. Thornhill to share his insight into how health and safety regulations can impact clients who commission building projects.

Health and safety consultants such as myself are appointed to projects to ensure that the design takes health and safety issues into account; that the construction work is planned so that it is safe, healthy and legally compliant; and that the final building itself can be safely maintained, refurbished and, perhaps in the future, rebuilt or even demolished.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 – abbreviated to CDM – are regulated and enforced by the Health and Safety Executive, who were established in 1975 to enforce safety legislation such as the Health and Safety at Work etc Act of the previous year. CDM and other Regulations followed later.

The CDM Regulations are complex, and I won’t bore you with the details of what they demand because, as a domestic client, you don’t need to worry about the details. All you have to do is make sure that the duty holders fulfil their legal requirements; and that is why it is really useful to have someone like me appointed to your project.

To find out why, read on.

Will I be liable for any breaches of health and safety law on my project?

The concept of competence is central to CDM regulations. A domestic property owner who commissions work to be carried out is not expected to be competent in or have any expertise in health and safety regulations.

On the other hand, principal contractors and principal designers are expected to be competent and to understand their obligations under health and safety regulations. Therefore, they carry the burden of legal responsibility for any breaches of CDM 2015 and other regulations.

But that doesn’t mean that, as a client, you shouldn’t do due diligence and make sure that a health and safety consultant such as myself is appointed to the project.

First and foremost is the moral imperative. I would hope that anyone reading this wouldn’t want to be the client who is funding a site which is harming people’s health, injuring people, or worse.

Secondly there is the financial implication. If breaches of CDM regulations are reported for your site, or if an HSE Inspector calls round unannounced, your project may be delayed or shut down until the “non-conformities” are put right.

The HSE charges a “fee for intervention” of £154 per hour for their work if they find anything wrong on site, which can result in a sizeable invoice being sent out. If the regulatory breaches are serious, the HSE may consider prosecution. In severe cases, the costs and delays can be enough to seriously impact on a project and your investment in it.

An unsafe working site is also likely to be a disorganised site, where the work will run over time and over budget, and won’t be done well. Trying to save money by hiring corner-cutting contractors really is a false economy.

It is always worth working with architects such as Dyer Grimes Architecture who not only act as the principle designer under CDM but also work with me to make sure that the principal contractor is complying with the law and working safely, and therefore efficiently.

Without such independent scrutiny and advice there is a risk that a principal contractor – who is eager to get on with the work – won’t be bothered with the required procedures and paperwork, which could cause harm and additional cost and put everyone in a very difficult situation.

What do health and safety consultants do?

There are two phases to the CDM process: the pre-construction phase and the construction phase. During the pre-construction phase, I make sure that all the health and safety documents and processes are in place.

Particular hazards and risks of the project are identified, and this includes ensuring that the necessary surveys are undertaken, for example an appropriate asbestos survey. I then prepare the Pre Construction Information which gives the principal designer and principal contractor the information that they need to proceed safely.

The principal contractor then prepares the Construction Phase Plan, responding to the particular information I have given, and demonstrating how they will control these risks during the construction phase. I check and comment on the Construction Phase Plan to ensure that it is suitable and sufficient, and then the project can move on to the construction phase.

There is no point in having good risk control systems if they are not put into practice. I always pay an initial site visit a few weeks into the project and check on everything to make sure that the provisions of the construction phase plan are in place and working.

Sometimes, depending on the length of the contract and the complexity of the project, I will attend at intervals throughout the construction phase. I assess the work and welfare arrangements, control of hazardous substances, work carried out at height, excavations, fire safety, electrical safety, machine operations – absolutely everything.

I detail what is not acceptable and give advice on how to achieve legal compliance. My findings are presented in a report which is given to the principle designer and principal contractor.

Because Dyer Grimes take their responsibilities seriously and because I am involved from an early stage in planning, most problems on site are minor and can easily be put right.

At the end of the project, I prepare the Health and Safety File, which gives you, the client, comprehensive information about the project, including operation manuals, surveys, specifications, drawings and certificates, to ensure the building can be used and maintained safely.

Should I worry about asbestos?

Any building which existed before the year 2000 could have asbestos in it, so one of the crucial steps in any project I oversee is to make sure that the appropriate asbestos survey takes place before works start.

If that doesn’t happen and the contractors go ahead and start ripping out walls, whoever is responsible for that decision may well be prosecuted by the HSE.

And rightly so. Thousands of people still die every year in this country from asbestos-related diseases. The presence of asbestos in a building is a serious problem which must be treated as such.

When should a health and safety consultant be appointed?

I should be involved right from the beginning of the project so I can work with the principal designer to make sure risks in the design are ironed out during the pre-construction phase.

This applies not just to the day to day use of the building but also risks to people who maintain the building or carry out works on it in the future. For example, when the building is complete, are there going to any areas of height people will need to access for reasons such as cleaning gutters or renewing roof lights? Can wiring and plumbing be easily located?

What you definitely don’t want to happen is to wait until a project is already underway – or worse, completed – before you discover further works need to be carried out to make the building safe to maintain, which is far more disruptive and expensive than doing due diligence from the start.

For example, I was recently called to a prestigious project in central London, where the architect realised only towards the end of the construction phase that they hadn’t factored in how the windows at the rear would be cleaned. Putting a mansafe system in at that stage proved to be extremely expensive and disruptive. Planning it from the beginning of the works would have been much easier and cheaper.

How can I find out more about health and safety regulations in building projects?

There is information on our website at and
I’m always happy to answer any questions you might have about the CDM Regulations or any other aspects of health and safety in building projects.

If you wish to get in touch, please contact me at [email protected] or phone 07919 123683

Dr. James Thornhill