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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard Magazine

Comment—Getting home owners on board

Should home owners have health and safety liability for work done on their own home? ALISON MOLLOY says no, but there are ways to encourage home owners to ask the right questions.

The responsibility for providing a safe work environment should sit with those who have the most ability and influence.

Using the rationale of “influence”, it could be argued that the new legislation before Parliament – the Health and Safety Reform Bill – logically leads to obligations being imposed on client home owners. However many home owners would not have the knowledge or skills (the “ability”) to take on active management of construction contracts. Therefore, health and safety should stay as the responsibility of the head contractor.

As the construction industry’s health and safety body, Site Safe is interested in what will actually work, what will prevent harm from occurring, and what will provide safe work environments for those working in the construction industry. There would be little to be gained from making home owners liable for the health and safety of a site because it would be near impossible to provide the appropriate qualifications, details and regulations to all New Zealand home owners.

On the other hand, there is an absolute need to educate home owners about health and safety risks and encourage them to ask about best practice when hiring a contractor. The more Kiwis focused on healthy and safe construction working environments, the better.

The founding principle for Site Safe NZ was an agreement among the main contractors not to compete on health and safety. In the current tendering regime, Site Safe is well aware of those companies which miss out on business because they have been under-cut by another firm on health and safety costs of jobs. Those with good current health and safety practices are being financially penalised through competition.

This is one of the most critical issues Site Safe members raise: please help, they ask, to create a level playing field so that health and safety is a natural part of New Zealand’s construction business. The residential construction sector tends to suffer higher injury rates compared to the civil and commercial sectors. Obviously the current formula isn’t working.

Those home owners who select their contractor purely on price may get best value at a superficial level but it comes at the expense of creating undue risk, with the potential to cause serious harm and significant financial loss for all parties. Furthermore it’s superficial because it is also at the expense of productivity.

Objectively, health and safety can bring better productivity and cost saving to construction sites through better project management: planning, communication and task analysis. Planning ahead for relevant health and safety risks can bring about better quality and satisfaction for client and contractors alike.

For example, making sure there are appropriate labour personnel on site and they are trained to do their job properly and safely. Specifying working safely at height equipment such as scaffolding provides easier and quicker access to work. Low-cost solutions such as site-enforced housekeeping reduces the risk of trips and falls and creates a more productive working space. Guests to the site must be inducted or at least escorted around site. No children or pets allowed on site means their safety is protected as well as the working environment staying in a controlled state.

Simple yet effective – these messages should become common knowledge to home owner construction clients.

Another way to influence home owner construction clients is around tendering. In the current health and safety reform, Site Safe has advocated for procurement practices that will influence good health and safety outcomes for all construction work. We advocate all construction contracts should have:

  • • 
    Adequate weighting to ensure that health and safety measures will be used in relation to the risks involved with the work;
  • • 
    Effective health and systems to be described, implemented, adequately resourced and monitored.

This tendering system would compel contractors to specify the health and safety practices they will implement. It also conveys to those involved with the project a practical way of understanding potential risks and educates them on necessary health and safety. The downstream effect will provide greater health and safety capability to more small businesses, workers and clients involved. Tendering in this manner should be promoted as best practice to all residential home owner clients via local government and building agencies.

Health and safety for residential construction should be non-negotiable in the Kiwi ethos. It’s about being ethical and caring within our communities. It can be achieved by applying effective yet practical low-cost solutions.

Alison Molloy is chief executive of Site Safe New Zealand.

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