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Construction health and safety

This guideline is intended to provide relevant and practical guidance to ensure health and safety requirements are integrated into all stages of capital works projects.

The guideline provides information on ensure health and safety requirements for all major capital investment projects from design and documentation to the tendering and construction stages.

During the course of all capital investment projects, it is important that documentation be provided to the principal to the contract and the project control group (PCG) to assist with their governance responsibility. Their responsibilities together with roles of the principal contractor, the consultants and Infrastructure Planning and Delivery (IPD) branch are also set out to:

  • assist in making decisions or providing endorsements or facilitating the other roles associated with good management of health and safety requirements
  • provide key issues for action
  • provide the auditable trail of discussions, decisions and other actions affecting the design and procurement of public works and services.

The principal may delegate selected aspects however cannot contract out of their responsibilities. Examples have been set out together with the person delegated with responsibility for actioning the issue.

Other requirements regarding the tender selection process and contract administration are located in the accompanying text and templates. 

Legislation and other compliance publications

The principle legislation is the Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Act 2004

Secondary legislation includes:

  • Occupational Health and Safety (Combined) Regulations 2007
  • Equipment (Public Safety) Act 1994
  • Equipment (Public Safety) Regulations 2007
  • Dangerous Goods Act 1985
  • Dangerous Goods Regulations 2005

Codes of practice

There are codes of practice relevant to occupational health and safety in capital projects. They may be obtained from the WorkCover websites, specifically referring to:

  • Code of practice (No. 3) - workplaces
  • Code of practice (No. 8) - trenching
  • Code of practice (No. 13) - building and construction workplaces
  • Code of practice (No. 14) - demolition
  • Code of practice (No. 19) - plant
  • Code of practice (No. 24) - hazardous substances
  • Code of practice (No. 25) - manual handling
  • Code of practice (No. 27) - dangerous goods storage and handling.

Objectives of the OHS act 2004 are:

(a)     to secure the health, safety and welfare of employees and other persons at work; and

(b)     to eliminate, at the source, risks to the health, safety or welfare of employees and other persons at work; and

(c)     to ensure that the health and safety of members of the public is not placed at risk by the conduct of undertakings by employers and self-employed persons; and

(d)     to provide for the involvement of employees, employers, and organisations representing those persons, in the formulation and implementation of health, safety and welfare standards.

Duties of employers

The duties of employers under the act are: (Selective extracts from the act)

An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain for employees of the employer a working environment that is safe and without risks to health. The responsibilities include:

  • provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health
  • make arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and the absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage or transport of plant or substances
  • maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, each workplace under the employer's management and control in a condition that is safe and without risks to health
  • provide, so far as is reasonably practicable, adequate facilities for the welfare of employees at any workplace under the management and control of the employer
  • provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees of the employer as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health.


1. A reference to an employee includes a reference to an independent contractor engaged by an employer and any employees of the independent contractor.

2. The duties of an employer extend to an independent contractor engaged by the employer, and any employees of the independent contractor, in relation to matters over which the employer has control or would have control if not for any agreement purporting to limit or remove that control.

3. Part 5.1 of the OHS regulations recognises the unique nature of construction contracts and specifically allows for the appointment and authorisation of a principal contractor to manage and control the construction workplace. On behalf of the principal, consultants are to include provisions in the contract for the appointment and authorisation of the principal contractor through the special conditions to AS 2124 contracts.

An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • monitor the health of employees of the employer
  • monitor conditions at any workplace under the employer's management and control
  • provide information to employees of the employer (in such other languages as appropriate) concerning health and safety at the workplace, including the names of persons to whom an employee may make an enquiry or complaint about health and safety.

An employer must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • keep information and records relating to the health and safety of employees of the employer
  • employ or engage persons who are suitably qualified in relation to occupational health and safety to provide advice to the employer concerning the health and safety of employees of the employer.

An employer must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer.

Duties of the principal to a construction project are:

The principal to a construction contract is required to exercise such care and take such steps as are practicable in the circumstances to avoid a foreseeable risk of death or injury.

It is important that the Department of Health and Human Services or agency be able to demonstrate due diligence in attempting to meet health and safety obligations when engaging contractors. This may be achieved by taking steps that are reasonable in the circumstances to see that a competent contractor with relevant experience is engaged, and that the contractor and its employees carry out the work in safe premises, using proper and safe plant and substances, employing systems of work that are safe and include adequate instruction, training and supervision.

To fulfil their obligations, the principal should:

  • use experts to advise and prepare the project documentation
  • identify any health and safety information in their possession. This may include specific infection control issues, issues related to Juvenile Justice, the presence of asbestos containing materials and issues related to research and treatment facilities, which may include radiation
  • ensure incorporation of health and safety information into project documentation through the designer and specifier, and if required, provide a special briefing on site specific issues to the contractor before work commences
  • ensure that tenderers are advised through the tender documents that OHS is an important criterion in the evaluation of tenders
  • require that selection processes confirm that tenderers acknowledge in their tender, their health and safety obligations
  • appoint a principal contractor for the construction work performed for or on behalf of the owner, and authorise the principal contractor to manage or control the workplace to the extent necessary to discharge the duties imposed on a principal contractor under subdivision 2 duties of principal contractor of part 5.1 construction, of the OHS regulations 2007
  • require the contractor to provide site-specific safety plans and safe work method statements (SWMS) for all high risk activities and to keep them up to date and available on site at all times
  • require health and safety to be reviewed regularly on site by the contractor; at all site meetings, and be reported at PCG meetings

Responsibilities of designers

The OHS act now covers the role of designers, such as architects and engineers. The act requires that designers responsibility is to ensure that buildings and workplaces are safe for the purpose for which they are designed. They are to retain records showing how they have identified and deal with risks as part of their duties as a designer. In those instances where the contractor supplies designs or shop drawings, as part of the contract, the same obligations and conditions shall apply.

Designers must consider all locations of the building and site being designed and consult with representatives of the future workers who will use those locations; about the tasks and activities to be performed at each location. Each location must be so designed that it will be a safe workplace. In consulting with representatives of the future workers, designers must endeavour to seek out workers at the level who will use the location. It will not be adequate to limit this consultation to management representatives!

As well as designing workplaces to be safe for operational requirements of day-to-day users, they must also be designed to be safe for occasional users, such as those people who inspect, service, maintain or clean plant, equipment and the building.

Role of IPD

IPD is responsible for the management of capital investment projects of the department, specifically for health and community services facilities and infrastructure (excludes public housing).

IPD role and responsibilities include:

  • prepare guidelines for capital investment by the department and agencies
  • regularly report and review with governance bodies such as PCG's the assessment and management of risk exposure areas of capital investment projects
  • engage and manage consultants and building contractors on behalf of the department to undertake the planning and implementation of capital projects, including meeting health and safety compliance requirements
  • act on behalf of the crown in the role of principal representative or superintendent on departmental projects.