8th November, 2023

Who Is Responsible For Health And Safety On A Construction Site?

The principal contractor has overall responsibility for managing health and safety on a construction site - but they're not the only one. In this blog post, we will look at when the principal contractor is responsible, and who else has health and safety responsibilities too.

Who Is Responsible For Health And Safety On A Construction Site? header image

Everyone has health and safety responsibilities on a construction project, but there will always be one contractor who is responsible for managing health and safety on the site.

This will either be the only contractor involved in the project, or for projects with more than one contractor, this will be the principal contractor.

Due to the high-risk (and often complex) work involved in construction projects, the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations (CDM) are a specific set of health and safety regulations developed to create legal duties for construction work.

In this blog post, we will look at who is responsible for managing health and safety on a construction site, and who else has health and safety responsibilities including:

Who is responsible for managing health and safety on a construction site?

If there's only one contractor involved in a construction project, they are responsible for managing health and safety on the site.

But often, construction work involves more than one contractor. Even if you have one main contractor, they might need to use other contractors. Like an electrician, a scaffolder, a plumber, or an asbestos removal contractor.

And that's why a principal contractor must be appointed by the client on any construction projects with more than one contractor.

principal contractor appointment flowchart

So when there's more than one contractor involved in a construction project, the client has to decide who is going to be in charge. And that contractor is appointed as the principal contractor.

The principal contractor has overall responsibility for managing health and safety on a construction site.

Their health and safety responsibilities include to:

There might be many contractors involved in a construction project, but one (and only one) is appointed as the principal contractor.

And that's because you need one contractor who is responsible (and has the right skills, experience and knowledge) to manage health and safety on the construction site.

The principal contractor will often plan the work, prepare the documents, appoint contractors and communicate with the rest of the project team - like the client and designers. During the planning stages, this work is often done at the office by the project manager or contracts manager.

The principal contractor will also need someone on the site who can monitor the work, make sure risk assessments and method statements are followed, communicate risks to contractors, check on the site security, and provide inductions during the work.

contractors looking at documents on the site

Usually, the principal contractor will be carrying some (or most) of the work, and have a whole team on site. But sometimes the principal contractor will just be responsible for managing health and safety and only have a site manager on the site to manage the work of the other contractors.

Find out more about principal contractor health and safety responsibilities in CDM 2015 Principal Contractor Duties Explained, or if you're a principal contractor read our free CDM principal contractor duty holder guide.

Who else has health and safety responsibilities on a construction site?

The principal contractor isn't the only person or business with health and safety responsibilities on a construction project.

Yes, they have the overall responsibility, and on the site, everyone else will look to them to take the lead. But you'll find that everyone has some level of health and safety responsibility, including:

The client

Clients also have health and safety duties under CDM. The client is the person (or business) having the construction work carried out - usually the person or business paying for the work.

If you're a client (and not a domestic client) on a construction project, then you have health and safety responsibilities. You must appoint the principal contractor and principal designer, and to make sure that suitable arrangements, time and resources are allocated for health and safety.

Find out more about client duties in the free CDM duty holder guide for clients.

The principal designer

Similar to the principal contractor, there is a principal designer on construction projects with more than one contractor.

And like the principal contractor, the principal designer is responsible for managing health and safety. But the principal designer manages health and safety during the planning phase (instead of the construction phase).

contractors looking at design

So before work starts on the site, the principal designer is responsible for managing health and safety.

These responsibilities include to:

Find out more about principal designer duties in the free CDM duty holder guide for principal designers.

Other contractors

Every contractor working on a construction site has health and safety responsibilities.

Although the principal contractor has the overall responsibility for managing health and safety on a construction site, contractors still need to comply with health and safety laws, and the construction phase plan for the project.

This includes working safely, providing risk assessments and method statements for their work, communicating and coordinating with the principal contractor, and obeying the construction site rules.

Find out more about contractor duties in the free CDM duty holder guide for contractors.

Workers

Finally, workers also have health and safety responsibilities on a construction site.

Workers could be working for the principal contractor, a contractor on the site, or be self-employed contractors.

Workers must take care of their own health and safety, and they must also consider those who may be affected by their actions. For example, could their work or task harm someone else, and if so, how can they make sure it doesn't?

They must report anything they see which may endanger health and safety, and cooperate with their employer, other workers, contractors and other duty holders.


Get a full step-by-step breakdown of your construction responsibilities under CDM in our free CDM duty holder guides. And check if your project is CDM ready with the CDM compliance checklist.

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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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