4th April, 2023
The O&M manual and the health and safety file are two documents you need on most construction projects. These are two different documents, sometimes supplied together and sometimes provided apart. You'll need to provide both documents at project completion.
The O&M manual and the health and safety file are two documents given to the client when a construction project finishes. The client will usually ask for these documents at, or shortly after, handover.
We often get asked, what is the difference between the O&M manual and the health and safety file? So if you're confused about the difference between the two, you are not alone!
There is often some overlap in the contents of both files, and they share many similarities:
So why the need for two documents?
In a nutshell, the O&M manual contains information on the operation and maintenance of the building. The health and safety file contains health and safety information for the future use and maintenance of the building.
Still none the wiser? Let's take a more detailed look and get to the bottom of these two similar (but different) documents!
The O&M manual, or operation and maintenance manual, is a bit like the owner's manual you get with your car. But instead of a car, it's for a building or structure. Some people even call it the building owners manual.
The O&M manual isn't a health and safety-specific document, but it may contain some health and safety information. Or certainly, information that would help from a health and safety point of view.
The requirement to provide operation and maintenance information is often included within the building contract, especially on larger projects.
For example, in the JCT standard building contract, you will find a clause requiring the contractor to provide "related information as may be specified in the Contract Documents or as the Employer may reasonably require" and "concerning the maintenance and operation... including any installations forming part of it".
That's why clients will often retain some balance of the final payment until they get the O&M manual - because the contract isn't complete until they receive it.
And if the requirement to provide an O&M manual is not in the building contract? Well, it will probably still be expected - just like you expect to get a manual when you buy a car or a new appliance.
The O&M manual should contain any information the client needs about operation and maintenance. For example, if you've installed a boiler, they will need to know how to operate it, when it will need servicing, and any guarantees.
The information required for the O&M manual will vary depending on the type of project and work involved. Typical contents of an O&M manual may include:
Because of the number of people that usually work on a construction project, different trades, and doing different work, the O&M manual is usually a collection of documents and information from various contractors.
It's good practice to hand over the manuals and information you collect during the job. Your client may need to refer to it, especially for operating equipment that has been installed.
Try to make sure your O&M manual is well organised and the information is easy to find. If you've done a good job, it's probably you that the client asks to come back and do further work or maintenance in the future, and it will be helpful to have that information to hand.
Now we know what the O&M manual is and why it makes sense to supply that information to the client. But what about the health and safety file, what's that all about?
The health and safety file is a document required under the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations (also known as CDM). This document is legally required under CDM, a set of health and safety regulations that apply to every construction project.
...the principal designer must prepare a health and safety file appropriate to the characteristics of the project which must contain information relating to the project which is likely to be needed during any subsequent project to ensure the health and safety of any person.
The health and safety file, as the name suggests, is a health and safety specific document. Like the O&M manual, the health and safety file is focused on providing information to the client. And like the O&M manual, the information is needed for future use, maintenance, cleaning of the building, and any future projects. But unlike the O&M manual, the health and safety file just contains information specific to health and safety. What hazards should the client and users be aware of?
For example, you might not need to know exactly where underground services are to operate a building, but you do need to know where they are if, in the future, you decide to excavate for an extension.
Typical contents of the health and safety file include:
Find out more about what you should include in the CDM health and safety file.
(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.
Under CDM, the health and safety file is put together by the principal designer, and not the contractor. The principal contractor must pass any health and safety-specific information from the work and the O&M manual to the principal designer. This information will be reviewed and compiled into the health and safety file for handover to the client.
Now you know more about each document, let's recap some of the key differences between the O&M manual vs the health and safety file.
The O&M manual is usually a requirement of the building contract.
The health and safety file is required by law under the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations on any project where a principal designer needs to be appointed.
The main contractor will usually create the O&M manual with information from their suppliers, manufacturers, and information gathered from other contractors and designers involved in the project.
The principal contractor (usually the main contractor) will also gather information for the health and safety file in the same way as they do for the O&M manual. But they will usually provide this information to the principal designer to prepare and produce the health and safety file.
The O&M manual contains all the operation and maintenance information for the building. The health and safety file only contains information relevant to health and safety.
The health and safety file will usually be smaller because it is focused on health and safety. It doesn't need to contain all of the manuals, plans, and certificates from the O&M manual. It should only refer to health and safety information.
These two documents should serve two different purposes. If you need to know how to do something, or when to do it, you would look in the O&M manual. If you need to know if something is safe to do, or where a hazardous material is, you would look in the health and safety file.
Now you know about the differences between the O&M manual and the health and safety file.
But there are also some similarities and overlaps of information. Where information is needed in both documents, you don't need to duplicate it. Information can be cross-referenced when relevant to both documents.
Use our free CDM duty holder guides to help you comply with CDM on your project. Just want help with your health and safety file? Get started with the CDM health and safety file template.
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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