29th November, 2022

7 Reasons Why The Principal Contractor Needs To Be On Site (Most Of The Time)

If you are taking on the role of principal contractor and are not the main contractor, you might be wondering if you need to be present on the site during construction work - you should be (most of the time) - or risk failing your legal duties.

7 Reasons Why The Principal Contractor Needs To Be On Site (Most Of The Time) header image

Under the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations - known as CDM - the client must appoint a principal contractor for any construction project with more than one contractor. It's rare to find a construction project that doesn't have more than one contractor (electricians, scaffolders, plumbers, bricklayers, plasterers etc.), so most construction projects need a principal contractor.

The principal contractor has legal duties. They are responsible for health and safety during the construction - including the safety of anyone on site (including other contractors).

In many circumstances, the principal contractor carries out the majority of the work and will be on the site anyway. For example, it's usual to appoint the main contractor as the principal contractor.

But sometimes, the client might be taking on the role of the principal contractor.

For example, if the client runs a factory and plans to refurbish an office. They might choose to appoint separate contractors for the strip out, decoration, electrical work and flooring. With the contractors on the site at different times, and no main contractor managing them, the client might take that role on themselves.

Or if the client is a developer building a house - but appointing contractors for groundworks, foundations, brickwork and roofing.

In these situations, a question that's frequently asked is, "does the principal contractor need to be on the site?".

Does the principal contractor need to be on the construction site?

The simple answer is yes - the principal contractor does need to have a presence on the construction site.

principal contractor on construction site

When you take on the role of the principal contractor on a construction project, you have legal duties. You accept these duties as part of your appointment, and many of these duties are site-based.

If you fail to carry out your duties, it's a breach of the CDM regulations. And when things go wrong, you can expect more than a slap on the wrist.

Construction is a high-risk industry, and failing to comply with legal duties can lead to massive fines. In fact, when we looked at CDM prosecutions in 2019, the largest CDM fine (£800k) was for a breach of the principal contractor's duties.

There are several reasons why the principal contractor needs to be present on the site to comply with CDM:

To manage and monitor construction work

The first duty of a principal contractor involves managing and monitoring the construction work. It's pretty difficult to manage construction work if you are not there.

Construction work isn't really set up well for remote working - you can't screen share or send across what you are working on to be checked. Video calls might get you so far - but they are no substitute for a walk around the site to check what everyone is up to.

13.—(1) The principal contractor must plan, manage and monitor the construction phase and coordinate matters relating to health and safety during the construction phase to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, construction work is carried out without risks to health or safety.

To provide site inductions

You'll need to be on the site to provide inductions - and check that people don't start work without one.

The principal contractor must provide inductions, not just to their employees - but to anyone on the site. You need a construction site induction on every project, and it doesn't just happen on day one.

decorator paint roller

Groundworkers might start on day one and need an induction then. But you might not need decorators on the site until day one hundred! Each day someone new turns up on the site, they need an induction from the principal contractor - you'll need to be present for that.

(4) The principal contractor must ensure that—
  1. a suitable site induction is provided;

-- The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 - Duties of a principal contractor in relation to health and safety at the construction phase

To organise cooperation between contractors

You'll need to be on the site to organise the cooperation between contractors. Yes, office-based communication is important - but are teams cooperating on the site too?

(3) The principal contractor must—

  1. organise cooperation between contractors (including successive contractors on the same construction site)

To set up and secure the site

You might wonder if you can be on the site at the start of the project to get the site set up and everyone inducted, then check back in periodically.

But as we have already mentioned, inductions happen throughout the project, and so do deliveries and visitors. And site set-up isn't a one-time thing either.

site fence and warning sign

Fences can get damaged, locks break, and sites change during construction. As the principal contractor, you need to make sure welfare facilities and security are in place throughout the project. What was suitable on the first day might need fixing or adjusting a month later.

(4) The principal contractor must ensure that—

  1. the necessary steps are taken to prevent access by unauthorised persons to the construction site; and
  2. facilities that comply with the requirements of Schedule 2 are provided throughout the construction phase.

To gather and share information

Nowadays, many businesses transfer files as electronic documents, via file-sharing platforms, emails, and servers. But this is the construction industry - and paperwork can often change hands as paper instead of electronically.

If you are not on the site, paperwork might not manage to make its way back to your inbox. It's much easy to handle the gathering of information and paperwork on a busy construction site in person.

paperwork in folders

(7) During the project, the principal contractor must provide the principal designer with any information in the principal contractor's possession relevant to the health and safety file, for inclusion in the health and safety file.

To update the construction phase plan

As the principal contractor, you create your construction phase plan before work starts on site. But you might need to update it and adjust it as work develops during construction.

You'll have a much better handle on the answers to these questions if you are on the site, monitoring the work.

(4) Throughout the project the principal contractor must ensure that the construction phase plan is appropriately reviewed, updated and revised from time to time so that it continues to be sufficient to ensure that construction work is carried out, so far as is reasonably practicable, without risks to health or safety.

To check compliance

Being a principal contractor isn't just about putting health and safety rules in place for the project - you also need to make sure they are followed on site. You've carefully planned how the construction work will get done safely, but when construction starts, it's time to put your plans into action!

As the principal contractor, you'll need to check that contractors on the site follow the construction phase plan. And the only way you can do that is if you are actually there on the site to check!

inspecting construction site

There's also a large (but little talked about) part 4 section of the CDM regulations that focuses on health and safety requirements for construction sites.

(3) The principal contractor must—

  1. ensure that employers and, if necessary for the protection of workers, self-employed persons—

Are you a principal contractor? Check out the free principal contractor CDM guide and use the free CDM compliance checklist to help you comply.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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