Whether you’re building a house or constructing a city centre skyscraper, in every construction project it’s likely that you’ll be dealing with several contractors and even more subcontractors.
If you’re the main contractor on site your responsibilities won’t be restricted to your own employees and the subcontractors you’ve chosen to work with and could potentially extend to any third party present on site as well as the general public. All of this means that when you start a new project you need to give careful consideration to who is going to be there and why and what steps you need to take to make sure that they’re doing the work properly and, ultimately, that they’re safe.
Who’s on site?
Are you ultimately responsible for co-ordinating the project? If you are, you need to be kept fully informed of who is working and what instructions they’ve been given. You may have made provision to ensure that you’re the only agency with authority to take on subcontractors. Whilst this may be realistic on a small project, a larger build is likely to grind to a halt if you have to approve absolutely everyone. In those circumstances, best practice would be to ensure that anyone with authority to bring a new subcontractor onto site has a responsibility to inform you and to confirm what aspect of the job they’re going to be carrying out.
Communicating method statements
On a complex project, the work that goes into the planning stage is absolutely crucial. The specifications for the project as a whole and each individual task required from commencement to completion can run to hundreds of pages and have the potential to become a communications nightmare. Nevertheless, as main contractor it’s going to fall to you to ensure that the jobs don’t just get done, but that they get done right.
One of the first priorities on starting a project should be setting up proper lines of communication. You need to know that everyone involved has been provided with the right information about how the work is going to be done. Equally, if any issues arise whilst the build is in progress you should be informed, even if that’s only after the problem has been resolved. How that happens in practice is up to you. If there are hundreds of people working on site you probably don’t want all of them coming to you direct so it’s important that you make your expectations clear. A hierarchy of communication points with each subcontractor having a central point of contact that then moves up the levels until it reaches you is the most sensible option. Equally, having a clear structure can help you to be confident that any updates you distribute are going to reach the right place.
Health and safety
These days, it’s an unfortunate fact that whilst health and safety budgets are being squeezed, the possibility that you’ll be presented with a personal injury claim remains. The most common challenge when these claims arise is that no-one is quite sure who was responsible for each aspect of the work. There isn’t a business operating today that isn’t aware of their duties to carry out risk assessments and devise safe operating procedures for their employees. Where there are multiple agencies involved it’s easy to come unstuck by assuming that someone else will carry this out for anyone under their supervision.
Again, communication is key. If another contractor is going to be taking on subcontractors, are they also going to be responsible for carrying out the risk assessments in respect of their work? Or, will you be preparing the method statements, safe operating procedures and risk assessments before ensuring that there is a communication network in place to ensure that all of the information reaches the right person?
It’s important to remember that if a claim does arise, you’re likely to be brought into it at some point. Injured people will usually go to their employer first, but insurers tend to take a wider view. If there’s a main contractor co-ordinating the works they’ll expect you to be in control of overall health and safety and to know if anyone else was responsible for individual tasks. An insurers’ first thought on receiving a claim is “can I pass this on to someone else?” closely followed by “do we need to pay this out?” It will make everyone’s life easier if the answers to those questions are readily available.
If you only take one thing away after reading this, please let it be the importance of writing everything down. Good documentation will save you time, money and effort, particularly if insurers or solicitors get involved. It can be the key to resolving all manner of disputes, from contract issues to injury claims.
Your documents should show what agreements were in place between you and the other parties in respect of working practices, subcontractors, health and safety and communications. They should also allow you to demonstrate that the procedures were followed. You have a range of options here. You could save copies of emails sending documents to the appropriate contact point. If subcontractors need to be trained on the safe operating procedure you’ll need to see sign off sheets.
Whatever procedure you put in place, make sure it’s properly documented.
Any questions? Get in touch.