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Section 1 Legislation Overview

Section 2 Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

Section 3 Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 

Section 4 Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007

Section 5 Legal Responsibilities                            


Description:  This unit identifies and describes the current legal requirements which apply to those at work on construction sites and explores the responsibilities of the individuals and groups involved.

Author:  Gates MacBain Associates

Section 1  Legislation Overview

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • Identify a range of strategies used by Safety Legislators from 1960 to the present day.

 HASWAHealth & Safety at Work Act 1974  HSE Health & Safety Executive
 CDMConstruction (Design and Management) Regs 2007  RA Risk Assessment
 MHSWRManagement of Health & Safety at  Work Regs 1999   

Over a period of almost 50 years of health and safety legislation has used various strategies to prevent injuries and ill health in construction work. Each of these strategies emerged out of the need at that time and was designed to strengthen and build upon the previous strategy. 

Strategy 1 : Safe Workplace

This strategy works on the principle of making the place of work safe and therefore reduces accidents and prevents ill health. It concentrates on introducing that laws to ensure safe working conditions are in place. The main difficulty with this strategy is producing enough regulations to cover all the possible dangerous conditions which of course is not possible.

The Construction Regulations in the 1960s covered issues like excavations and scaffolds. These were updated in the 1996 and 1998 Construction and Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations respectively.

Many accidents which occurred were either not covered directly by the regulations or were the results of unsafe acts by people. Prosecutions were corporate (against companies) during this period where specific breaches in legislation could be proved.

Strategy 2 : Safe Persons

The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) brought a transformation to a safe person strategy.

People cause accidents by unsafe acts which in turn can create unsafe conditions which may not be covered by a specific regulation. This strategy concentrates upon making individuals legally responsible for their actions in the workplace. It also specified clearly what was expected of employers and company policies on health and safety. 

These things combined meant that all employees from Managing Director down to the newest employee were legally accountable for their actions and could be criminally prosecuted if failure under HASWA.

HASWA imposed general duties on employers, a range of other groups and individuals to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable health and safety at work. Criminal and or corporate prosecutions could be taken against those in breach. There was now law in place giving every individual at work legal responsibility for their own health and safety and anyone else who could be affected by their acts or omissions. In the event of a prosecution under HASWA the individual must prove compliance with legal requirements. The Health & Safety Executive could bring prosecutions and their inspectors were given wide ranging powers including the issuing of improvement and prohibition orders.

HASWA was a general and enabling piece of legislation which formed an ‘umbrella’ over existing safety legislation such as the Factories Acts and Construction Regulations. The next 18 years (1974 – 1992) saw the introduction of  statutory provisions which clarified and strengthened the general requirements HASWA section 2 which we look at in greater detail later.

In 1992 came the most significant change of all when six new pieces of legislation came into force to harmonise health and safety activities across the EEC. The most significant of these was the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1992 (MHSWR) which imposed legal duties on employers to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments. 

Strategy 3 : Risk Assessments

The MHSWR made it a legal requirement to do what all good employers had been doing for years by simply looking at each work activity objectively and assessing the likely harm to those at work and others who might be affected. The workplace precautions or control measures put in place were the working rules designed to prevent accidents or ill health. Small companies (less than five employees) have to carry out risk assessments but are not required to record these in writing. All other employers must produce written risk assessments and ensure that all employees are informed of the safety rules which apply when carrying out a particular work activity. Communicating the safety message to all employees through briefings, training and direct supervision became central to preventing accidents and ill health.

Supervisors and management must be vigilant in ensuring that the workplace precautions are being observed. This highlights another important strategy which first appeared in the Construction Design & Management Regulations 1994. Many unnecessary risk assessments needed to be written because those who designed schemes were specifying potentially hazardous materials or designing structures which were difficult to build in a safe manner.

Strategy 4 : Design & Management

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM ) replaced the original 1994 regulations and the Constructions Regulations 1996 and brings us up to date and almost full circle by combining legislation on design, management and safe construction workplaces.

Under CDM  parts 2 & 3 the construction methods and materials used are required to be considered at design stage with health and safety in mind and the activities of a number of designers are overseen by a CDM Co-ordinator. The client is given a legal responsibility to appoint the CDM co-ordinator and provide the resources to ensure health and safety as well as appointing a Principle Contractor. Some clients may employ an Architectural or Consulting Engineering practice to discharge these duties on his behalf. 

The CDM co-ordinator will provide the link between Client and Principal Contractor as the scheme progresses and is eventually completed.

CDM part 4 deals with specific hazards on site and replaced the 1996 Construction Regulations.

Summary of Health & Safety Issues
  • Good design can reduce hazards
  • Effective management procedures will ensure safe systems of work are being used 
  • Dangerous conditions can develop on site particularly where attitudes on site allow  
  • defects to be tolerated. 
  • Defects produce hazards. 
  • Unsafe acts can also produce hazards
  • Hazards in the workplace put people and property at risk
  • Risks are likely to lead to accidents. 
  • Accidents lead to injuries and damage. 

A source of information relating to legislation is the HSE website which can be accessed by clicking on the link ‘Health & Safety Legislation’. Some additional material relating to this subject area can be obtained from the Open University Openlearn website.  In order to access this information you will need to register by using the block in the top right hand corner of the page you will be directed to by clicking on the website below.




  • Hughes, P, (2009) Introduction to Health and Safety in Construction; Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann (Chapter 1)

Section 2  Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • State the main provisions of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) places duties on both employer and employee and imposes a general statutory duty of care on all persons at work. It applies to all work activities, and extends to the protection of persons other than employees. 

The standard of action required with regard to common law is "reasonable". However, the standard of the HASWA is to do what is "reasonably practicable". Judgments have interpreted the meaning of "reasonably practicable" to require an assessment of the risk relative to the costs of the remedy.

HASWA is an act of a general nature, and it:
  • places duties on employers and employees 
  • gives powers to the Secretary of State to make regulations 
  • imposes a general duty of care on all persons at work 
  • applies to all work activities (except in domestic premises) 
  • extends to the protection of persons other than employees 
  • allows for greater participation by workers 
  • widens the scope of penal sanctions and powers of inspectors. 

HASWA requires employers who employ five or more persons to produce a written policy statement on health and safety and bring it to the attention of his employees. Each employer must also put in place arrangements to implement the safety policy. This means in practical terms that all employees should have clearly defined roles on health and safety. These roles will vary from say a senior manager who ensures finance is available for equipment and training to the employee on his first day at work obeying the safety rules.

It is the duty of every employer in terms of the HASWA to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of their employees.

Employers must provide and maintain:
  • a safe place of work with a means of safe access and egress 
  • safe plant and equipment 
  • safe systems of work 
  • a safe working environment and adequate facilities and arrangements for employees' welfare 
  • safe methods for handling, storage, use and transport of articles and substances 
  • adequate information, instruction, training and supervision 
  • consultation with employees (through appointed safety representatives, representatives of employee safety and the formation of a health and safety committee) 
  • a statement on health and safety and the organisation/arrangements for carrying out that policy. 

The HASWA requires employers and self-employed persons to ensure that:
  • their activities do not endanger persons not in their employment 
  • in certain circumstances, information must be given to the general public concerning any potential hazards to health and safety.

Those who have control of non-domestic premises which are used as a place of work are responsible for:
  • ensuring that the premises, and the plant and substances contained in them, are safe 
  • taking reasonable measures for providing a safe access to and egress from the premises 
  • preventing harmful emissions into the atmosphere (prescribed premises). 

Every employee must:
  • to take reasonable care for the health and safety of themselves and of other persons who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work 
  • to co-operate with their employer to enable the employer to meet their duty or statutory requirement. 

No person may intentionally or recklessly interfere with or misuse anything provided in the interests of health, safety or welfare. It is therefore a criminal offence to remove a fire extinguisher to prop a door open, or to interfere with an interlock switch on a machine guard.

There are two distinct legal structures which may be identified, working either separately or together. These are as follows:

1. Civil law: determining the duties between individuals / bodies corporate. The outcome of a civil action is remedial (damages)

2. Criminal law: setting out duties between individuals and the state. The outcome is punitive (fines or imprisonment) 

Two distinct legal actions may be brought following an accident at work as follows:
1. Prosecution by an HSE inspector or other enforcement officer for a breach of criminal law (for example, failure to properly guard machinery). 

2. Civil claim for compensation brought by the injured person against the employer. The action will succeed provided the injured person can prove that their injury or illness was caused by a breach of statutory duty or negligence by their employer. 

An employer is vicariously liable for the acts of employees in the course of their employment. An employer will normally also be vicariously liable for the acts of a contractor appointed to fulfil some part of the employer's duty. 



Self-Assessment Task

  • List the main responsibilities of Employers and Employees under HASWA.

Section 3  Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • State the main provisions of current Health and Safety Legislation including CDM regulations, and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999. 

Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR) extend the general duties under the HSWA and require formal systems to implement the general requirements for health and safety including: 
  • Risk Assessment in writing to include workplace precautions (if five or more persons are employed) 
  • Where an employer implements any preventive and protective measures he shall do so on the basis of Schedule 1 of the regulations as follows:
(a) avoiding risks;
(b) evaluating the risks which cannot be avoided;
(c) combating the risks at source;
(d) adapting the work to the individual, 
(e) adapting to technical progress;
(f) replacing the dangerous by the non-dangerous or the less dangerous;
(g) developing a coherent overall prevention policy which covers technology, organisation of work, working conditions, social relationships and the influence of factors relating to the working environment;
(h) giving collective protective measures priority over individual protective measures; and
(i) giving appropriate instructions to employees.
  • Emergency planning for the duration of a construction scheme and making any necessary arrangements with external services especially as regards first-aid, emergency medical care and rescue work.
  • Designation of persons to implement the arrangements and the inclusion of necessary contacts with external services, especially as regards rescue work and fire-fighting
  • Co-ordinating health and safety plans with other employers who may share the workplace (such as other tenants or contractors) providing information to all those affected 
  • Every employer shall appoint one or more competent persons to assist him in undertaking the measures he needs to take to comply with the requirements and prohibitions imposed upon him by or under the relevant statutory provisions. A competent person in the employer's employment shall be appointed in preference to a competent person who is not in such employment
  • Every employee shall use any machinery, equipment, dangerous substance, transport equipment, means of production or safety device provided to him by his employer in accordance with training by his employer. 
  • Every employee shall inform his employer of any work situation which represents a serious and immediate danger to health and safety.
  • Every employer shall ensure that young persons employed by him are protected at work from any risks to their health or safety which are a consequence of their lack of experience, or absence of awareness of existing or potential risks or the fact that young persons have not yet fully matured.


Section 4  Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • Outline the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007

The CDM 2007 Regulations came into force on 6th April 2007 and replaced both the CDM Regs 1994 and the Construction Regulations 1996. The structure of this legislation is as follows:- 

Part 1 Citation, Interpretation and Application

Part 2 General Management Duties applying to Construction Projects         

Part 3 Additional duties where Project is notifiable        

Part 4 Duties relating to Health & Safety on Construction Sites        

Part 5 General Provisions 

Part 1 indicates that Part 3 applies where a project is notifiable and is carried out for or on behalf of a client whilst Part 4 applies only in relation to a construction site. Details on CDM 2007 can be accessed by following the link below  

Parts 2 and 3 set out duties in respect of the planning, management and monitoring of health, safety and welfare in construction projects.

Duties applicable to all projects, including duties of clients, designers and contractors, are set out in Part 2. These include a duty on every person working under the control of another to report anything that he is aware is likely to endanger health or safety.

Part 3 imposes additional duties on clients, designers and contractors where the project is notifiable, defined as likely to involve more than 30 days or 500 person days of construction work.

These include the duty of the client to appoint a CDM co-ordinator and a principal contractor.

All duty-holders are to co-operate with any other person at work on the same or any adjoining site in enabling one another to perform their duties.
All duty-holders are to co-ordinate their activities to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable the health and safety of persons carrying out or affected by the construction work.

All duty-holders are to take account of the general principles of prevention in Schedule 1 to the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

The client is under a duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that arrangements for managing the project that are suitable to ensure that construction work can be carried out so far as is reasonably practicable without risk to health and safety are made and maintained by duty-holders.

A CDM co-ordinator with enhanced duties, in particular in relation to assisting the client and to the co-ordination of health and safety measures is appointed by the Client.

The principal contractor is appointed by the Client and must prepare a construction phase plan which would include risk assessments and details of welfare facilities etc.

Part 4 sets out duties applicable to all contractors or to others controlling the way in which construction work is carried out including measures to be taken to ensure specified aspects of health and safety. 

You might research the CDM Regulations Part 4 to identify further measures,

Current Statutory Instruments

The Table 1 below indicates current statutory instruments related to work activities within the construction industry.
 Work Activity Relevant Legislation
  First Aid Health and Safety (First Aid) Regulations 1981
 Information  Health and Safety Information for Employees Regulations 1989
 Major Accident Hazards  Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations 1999
 Manual Handling Operations Manual Handling Operations Regulations 1992
 Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences. Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 1995
 Safety Signs Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996
 Working Time Working Time Regulations 1998
 Defective Equipment Employer's Liability (Defective Equipment) Act 1969
 Display Screen Equipment  Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations 1992
 Machinery  Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992
 Personal Protective Equipment Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992
 Work Equipment Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998
 Lifting Operations & Lifting Equipment Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998
 Electricity  Electricity at Work Regulations 1989
 Fire Precautions Fire Precautions Act 1971
 Fire Precautions (Workplace) Regulations 1997 
 Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
 Noise  Noise at Work Regulations 1989
 Control of Noise at Work Regulations 2005
 Hazardous Substances Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002
 Construction  Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007
 Confined Spaces Confined Spaces Regulations 1997
 Asbestos Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002
 Lead  Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2002
 Dangerous substances & explosive atmospheres Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations 2002
 Working at Height  Work at Height Regulations 2005
 Vibration  Control of Vibration at Work Regulations 2005

Table 1


Self-Assessment Task

  • List the duties of the Client and Principal Contractor under CDM 2007

Section 5  Legal Responsibilities

Aims and Objectives

At the end of this section you should be able to:
  • Indicate the legal responsibilities of the parties involved in construction activities.

In this section we will look at some situations and determine who might be held responsible. 

We might make the assumption that suitable risk assessments are on site and have been communicated to those at risk. If this assumption is incorrect then the Principal Contractor, Client and CDM Co-ordinator are in breach of MHSWR and CDM.   

If the work is outside the scope of CDM then the main contractor is in breach of MHSWR. Prosecutions would be likely under HASWA (as the enabling Act) by the HSE following an investigation. The court action would be taken against both the company and identified individuals. If risk assessments were in place then typical issues explored (which you would expect to find in the risk assessments) would be as shown for each case as follows:  

Case 1 

A trench collapse casing serious injury to two workers. The trench was 2m deep in stiff clay with open sheeting support being used. 
  • Type of support specified in the risk assessment?
  • Inspection procedures by competent persons and records?
  • The role of the supervisor responsible?
  • Was sufficient support available on site to provide a higher standard of support?
  • Were the operatives in the trench trained and briefed?
  • Was the trench loaded at the point of collapse?
Management must ensure equipment/risk assessments are in place and communicated to the workers by training, tool box talks and supervisors should check that the control measures are being used. Operatives must report any shortcomings in control measures.  

Case 2 

A scaffold collapse involving one fatality and two serious injuries. A three lift scaffold erected by a scaffolding contractor and handed over as safe for use. 
  • Hand over documentation to be examined
  • Had regular inspections been carried out and records kept?
  • Were any alterations made to the scaffold – if so by whom?
  • Were the operatives trained and briefed?
  • Were there any external factors which could have affected the stability of the scaffold eg. high wind?
Management should arrange for competent erection or modification of the scaffold whilst supervisors should ensure inspections are carried out and recorded. Operatives are required to obey the safety rules when working on a scaffold and report any defects immediately  

Case 3 

Asphyxiation of a workman in a foul sewer.  
  • Were tests carried out prior to entry?
  • Was there a permit to enter issued? If so by whom was it signed?
  • Had the operatives received Confined Spaces Training?
  • Were all the specified entry, monitoring and emergency procedures followed?
Management will ensure suitable equipment is provided, training given and issue permits to work and supervisors must ensure correct procedures are used to test, enter, monitor conditions and leave the sewer. Operatives must be trained in the use of breathing apparatus, working in confined spaces and know what procedures must be used in an emergency  

Case 4  

Serious injury to a worker by a reversing lorry on a construction site. 
  • Was a banksman supervising reversing lorries?
  • Was a audible warning fitted to the reversing vehicle?
  • Was the injured worker wearing high visibility clothing?
  • Had the operatives been trained or briefed regarding reversing vehicles
Management should organize the site so that reversing vehicles can be avoided or properly controlled. A banksmen wearing a high visibility jacket would be trained in directing the vehicles and supervisors should check to ensure procedures are being followed.  

Case 5  

Road worker fatality whilst setting out signs and cones on a dual carriageway. 
  • Had the worker completed the required training?
  • Was the prescribed procedure being used to lay out the signs?
  • Was the worker wearing high visibility clothing?
  • Were there any environmental contributory factors eg Fog
 Management must provide equipment and training on signing procedures and supervisors ensure agreed procedures are used whilst operatives follow the agreed procedures   


Managers have a responsibility to: 
  • support the health and safety policy and relevant health and safety arrangements
  • monitor adherence to agreed systems of work and supervise employees accordingly
  • communicate in an effective two-way arrangement ¾ with their employees on the one hand, and with senior management and the health and safety manager on the other
  • consider competence of employees with regard to selection and placement, and ensure employees are competent for any task required of them by means of information, instruction and training
  • take disciplinary action when necessary against any employee who consistently disregards or ignores health and safety arrangements
  • know their own limits in terms of competency and know when to obtain further advice and assistance.
Supervisors have a responsibility to: 
  • advise management of any shortcomings in equipment or training
  • check that agreed systems of work are being used and supervise employees accordingly
  • take action when necessary against any employee who consistently disregards or ignores health and safety arrangements
  • know their own limits in terms of competency and know when to obtain further advice and assistance.

Operatives have a responsibility to: 
  • Use procedures and equipment provided by his employer
  • Obey the safety rules
  • Report any defects immediately

Self-Assessment Task

  • Using the above notes as a guide produce a role description outlining the responsibilities and duties for
a) Site Agent          b) General Foreman        c) Bricklayer

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