We look at the legal requirements for keeping people safe on building sites and investigate the responsibilities that homeowners have under the law.
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The purpose of the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 is to keep workplaces safe and healthy for everyone who goes onto them. A building site comes under the definition of a place of work. The Act places duties on people who either control the work or engage others to do the work. This means that employers, or the person controlling the work (usually the builder and subcontractors, and sometimes the owner), have responsibilities under the Act.
To keep places of work safe, the Act has very strict rules about identifying and managing potential hazards. Where hazards are identified (a hazard is something that can cause harm to someone) then the person controlling the workplace must:
One example is excavations filling with water, which members of the public (including you or your family) could fall into. The builder, if responsible for the work site, should either:
Minimising the hazard is not really an option in this case.
The employer has to take all reasonable steps to make sure the work done on the building site is carried out in a safe manner. This includes having a health and safety plan for the site, putting up barriers, fences or other safeguards to stop unauthorised people entering, and making sure employees:
The Act is administered by WorkSafe New Zealand.
Building a new house
When you hire someone to build your home you become a principal under the Act. A principal must take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure that no contractor or subcontractor, or their employees, are harmed while doing any work on the house site.
To fulfil your duties as a principal there are a few things you can do:
If you bring a group of friends on site to do some of the work, the builder will not be responsible if one of them gets hurt. For example, should you organise a working bee to do the painting while there are still workmen on the site, and one of your friends collides with the electrician and is impaled on the drill he was using, under the Act you may be responsible for those injuries.
Renovations and repairs
A person already living in the house, who hires people to do repairs or renovations, is not a principal under the Act, i.e. house occupiers are excluded from liability under the Act.
Your main contractor’s health and safety site plan should include:
People who have duties under the Act - for example, the person in control of the place of work (excluding the home occupier) - cannot contract out of their responsibilities under the Act. If the contract you're asked to sign includes a clause which requires you to indemnify the builder for their liability under the Health and Safety in Employment Act, (in other words take on their liabilities under the Act), delete that clause.
When you are having a house built or renovations done, make sure you keep yourself, along with other family members and visitors safe from the hazards on the building site. Typical hazards include crushing, dust, electrocution, exposure to chemicals, and falls.
Do what the builder or contractor asks in relation to safety on the building site. If they ask you to keep the children out of certain areas, even if you are living in part of the house, you have to do what they say, not only for the safety of your children but also because if something happens to harm them, the builder or contractor could be liable.
So make sure everyone, especially the children, knows which areas are out-of-bounds.
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