Health and Safety Regulations and the RIBA Plan of Work

It’s safe to say that the construction industry operates under a considerable amount of health and safety legislation – and for good reason. Before the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, the industry regularly had 300 health and safety-related work deaths per year.

In 2018–2019, there were 54,000 non-fatal injuries, which is approximately 366 accidents per 100,000 employees and significantly above the UK average of 254 per 100,000. There were also 79,000 work-related ill-health cases reported for that timeframe, with 69 per cent of them being recorded musculoskeletal disorders.

One glaring example of construction negligence is the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy that resulted in 72 individuals losing their lives. The fire started in a fourth-floor flat and quickly spread.
Within minutes, all sides of the 24-storey tower were in flames. The subsequent inquiry concluded that the main cause of the fire’s spread was the presence of aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding, which was installed as part of an ongoing refurbishment from 2012 to 2016.

But several non-compliant systems also contributed to the disaster, some which hadn’t been replaced or upgraded since its original build in 1974. Later, when tests were performed on cladding samples from 34 high rise buildings across 17 different local authorities, all of them failed the combustibility test. These findings showcased a significant fault in how health and safety is approached in construction – including how the importance of such a topic is perceived.

In the wake of the fire, the Government commissioned a thorough review of building regulations and how they incorporated fire safety. Known to many as the Hackitt Report, the Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety was issued in May 2018.

In response to its findings, the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) introduced new measures that improve how it addresses health and safety to fit with the report’s recommendations when it released its Plan of Work for 2020.

Key legislation and regulation

The following information highlights the key legislation and regulation that surrounds, and often poses challenges for the construction industry.

What kind of health and safety legislation applies to the construction industry?

The amount of construction-related health and safety legislation is extensive, with the key one being the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974. It’s almost impossible to be an expert in every aspect of it, but, if construction and design is to take place, then it’s vitally important to at least be aware of its existence.

Who regulates health and safety, and where can I find guidance?

In the UK, the industry is regulated by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), who provides information and guidance in all aspects of health and safety. It places the welfare of people at the core of everything that is done and should be built into the environment – at work, at play, at rest.

Also, in response to the Hackitt Report, HSE have started to oversee a new building regulator that will focus on the safe design, construction and occupation of high-risk buildings. While HSE serves as a vital source of information, instruction and guidance, it is ultimately up to everyone involved with a project to ensure that your building plans and work comply.

Pre-construction and Hackitt Report recommendations

What is pre-construction information and when should it be provided?

According to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM 2015), ‘A client must provide pre-construction information as soon as it is practicable to every designer and contractor appointing, or being considered for appointment, to the project.’ It goes on to describe pre-construction information as:
‘…information in the client’s possession or which is reasonably obtainable by or on behalf of the client, which is relevant to the construction work and is of an appropriate level of detail and proportionate to the risks involved, including–

(a) information about–
i. the project;
ii. planning and management of the project;
iii. health and safety hazards, including design and construction hazards and how they will be addressed; and

(b) information in any existing health and safety file…’

What does the Hackitt Report recommend about specification?

In its recommendations, the Hackitt Report highlights the need for better specifications around everything from testing of products and systems to improving information quality and providing more precise and transparent tracking.

This article is based on an NBS webinar featuring Sarah Susman, Head of Technical Development at Scott Brownrigg Architects, and NBS Technical Author Roland Finch.