Occupational Health Safety (OHS), Its Legislation (Laws Surrounding It) & The UK Building Regulations
There are several statutes enacted by Act of Parliament that have an impact on the construction of buildings and associated work. The most notable ones include the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, the Building Act 1984, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995–2004, and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974
The Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 imposes a duty of care on employers or their representatives to establish a safe system of working. This duty applies to individuals in the workplace as well as those who may be affected by the work being carried out. The Act sets a comprehensive standard and is supported by a framework of regulations administered by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
The HSE’s specialist inspectors operate from local offices and have the authority to access premises, review safety records, issue improvement and prohibition notices, and initiate prosecutions if necessary.
Under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, there are several important statutory instruments that are legally binding on the client, architect, and builder. One such instrument is the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994. These regulations establish shared responsibility between the client, designer, and builder for matters related to the health and safety of personnel on construction sites throughout the project’s duration. The client holds the primary responsibility for appointing a ‘project coordinator’ (typically the architect) and a ‘principal contractor’ (usually the main contractor). It is also the client’s responsibility to ensure that both parties are adequately resourced, competent, and well-informed about relevant issues pertaining to the project.
The role of the project coordinator includes notifying the HSE about project details, facilitating cooperation between designers, coordinating the design process to mitigate risks, preparing a pre-tender health and safety plan and manual for the client’s reference, and providing updates on health and safety matters.
The primary responsibilities of the principal contractor are to ensure that all personnel on the construction site comply with the health and safety plan, to continuously develop and update the plan throughout the duration of the work, and to prevent unauthorized and uninsured individuals from accessing the site.
The Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996
The objectives established in accordance with the assessment of risk aim to safeguard the well-being of personnel on the construction site throughout the duration of the work. Key areas of assessment include the provision of temporary timbering and other non-permanent support facilities, the implementation of safety barriers for excavations, ensuring air quality in the workplace, promoting the safe use of gates, doors and other potential entrapment points, defining traffic and pedestrian routes, ensuring safe access to and egress from all work areas (including special considerations for scaffolds), and providing emergency lighting and power.
Additionally, adequate welfare facilities must be provided, including sanitation, hot and cold water supply, first aid equipment and personnel, protective clothing, facilities for drying clothes, and suitable accommodations for meals. Implicit in these regulations is the importance of effective site management, organization, and planning.
Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1994
These regulations aim to rebalance the focus on health, as the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act has placed greater emphasis on safety. Manufacturing companies are required to monitor and disclose the health risks associated with their products, while building contractors must provide their workers with protective clothing and/or a well-ventilated environment if the use of such clothing is necessary. The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) regulations have encouraged the removal of harmful substances from materials, such as toxins, irritants, and solvents. However, finding substitutes for these substances is not always feasible. Some unavoidable harmful constituents in building materials include timber preservatives, welding fumes, dust from cement and plaster, and insulating fibers.
In instances where these regulations are implemented, employers have a legal obligation to monitor the levels of exposure, maintain records, identify individuals who may be at risk, and document the facilities provided for their protection.
The Manual Handling Operations Regulations of 1992 outline the responsibility of employers to ensure that their employees are not required to perform manual tasks that pose an unreasonable risk of injury. The client, or their representative, who is typically the main contractor, must assess all manual handling operations and minimize the risk of injury or harm to the lowest feasible level. This is achieved by implementing appropriate work systems, such as cranes and hoists, which employees are required to utilize fully.
Several factors must be taken into consideration, including the availability of space for tasks, the distance involved in manipulating objects, body movement requirements, excessive pulling and pushing, and prolonged physical exertion. Additionally, the characteristics of the load, such as being unwieldy or bulky, eccentric, excessively heavy, prone to shifting, or having a particular temperature or sharpness, must be considered. The work environment itself, including factors like the surface finish (slippery, uneven, or variable), lighting, ventilation, and temperature variations, must also be taken into account.
Lastly, individual factors such as the capacity to handle unusual weights or dimensions, any existing health problems or limitations, and the provision of specialized training and personal protective clothing should be considered.
The Building Act 1984
The Building Act 1984 is a comprehensive piece of legislation that pertains to building work. Its main purpose is to empower the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to establish building regulations that aim to maintain the health, well-being, and convenience of individuals using and interacting with buildings. Additionally, these regulations promote energy efficiency, fuel conservation, and the prevention of water misuse and contamination.
Under the Building Act, several statutory instruments and regulations are currently in effect. These include the Building Regulations applicable to England and Wales, the Building (Approved Inspectors, etc.) Regulations, the Building (Prescribed Fees) Regulations, the Building (Inner London) Regulations, and the Building (Disabled People) Regulations.
The Building Regulations set forth minimum performance standards for modern buildings. They are accompanied by a series of Approved Documents that provide practical guidance on complying with the regulations. These documents often reference authoritative sources such as British Standards, the Building Research Establishment, and the British Board of Agrément.
Local council authorities are responsible for enforcing the Building Regulations. However, developers and builders have the option to choose private certification. In this case, the developer and an approved inspector jointly submit an initial notice to the local authority, describing the proposed works. The local authority has the right to reject the notice within 10 days if they have valid reasons. With private certification, the approved inspector assumes responsibility for inspecting plans, ensuring quality of work, supervising the site, and certifying satisfactory completion, as outlined in the Building (Approved Inspectors, etc.) Regulations.
Building legislation in the UK is divided regionally, with each area having its own set of regulations.
The regulations governing construction in England and Wales are known as the Building Regulations. In Scotland, they are referred to as the Building Standards Regulations, while in Northern Ireland, they are called the Building Regulations. Additionally, there are separate regulations for Inner London. These regulations also extend to the Channel Islands, Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland.
To ensure compliance with these regulations, Approved Documents have been created. These documents provide guidance on meeting the requirements set forth in the Building Regulations.
Since the year 2000, when the current Building Regulations were introduced, there have been several amendments to the series of Approved Documents. These amendments are made in response to advancements in technology, public demands, and environmental directives. The Approved Documents applicable to England and Wales are currently labeled from A to T, with the omission of I, O, and R.
A – Structure;
B – Fire safety;
C – Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture;
D – Toxic substances;
E – Resistance to the passage of sound;
F – Ventilation;
G – Hygiene;
H – Drainage and waste disposal;
J – Combustion appliances and fuel storage systems;
K – Protection from falling, collision and impact;
L1 – Conservation of fuel and power in dwellings;
L2 – Conservation of fuel and power in buildings other than dwellings;
M – Access to and use of buildings;
N – Glazing – safety in relation to impact, opening and cleaning;
P – Electrical safety;
Q – Electronics communications services;
S – Security systems;
T – Telecommunications systems
Q, S, T are proposals only.
An additional Approved Document has been created under Regulation 7, specifically focusing on materials and workmanship. This document mandates that any building subject to the Building Regulations must be constructed using appropriate materials and in a skilled manner.
The Approved Documents serve as practical and technical guidance for meeting the requirements of the Building Regulations. However, there is no obligation to adopt any of these documents as long as the performance requirements of the Building Regulations are met through alternative means. This may include obtaining European Technical Approvals, British Board of Agrément certification, CE marking of products, or utilizing calculations in accordance with acceptable structural standards for component selection.
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995-2004
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995-2004 was introduced in stages between 1995 and 2004. Its purpose is to support and benefit approximately 8 million UK residents who have disabilities. The Act stipulates that all new, adapted, and refurbished buildings must be constructed with unobstructed access and facilities that can be utilized by wheelchair users. This requirement also applies to service providers and owners of public buildings.
Building Regulations Part M – 2004 has been revised to align with the Act, and an accompanying Approved Document M: Access to and use of buildings has been developed.
These regulations provide design and practical guidance to ensure convenience for disabled users in new and refurbished buildings. All new homes, including houses and flats, must be constructed with sufficient accessibility and facilities for disabled individuals. The objective is to promote greater freedom and independence for disabled and elderly individuals in their own homes for an extended period of time. The regulations also address internal and external accessibility for wheelchair users in non-residential buildings. The aim is to provide disabled individuals with the same level of access as ambulant individuals when visiting friends, relatives, shops, entertainment venues, and other amenities, without any hindrances.
The key features of the Approved Document are as follows:
1. The access approach from the car parking area to the main entrance of a building should be either level or ramped.
2. The main entrance threshold should be level, without any steps.
3. The main entrance door should be wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair.
4. WC facilities should be available on the ground or entrance floor.
5. The WC compartment should have sufficient space for wheelchair maneuverability.
6. WC facilities should be accessible at different levels for both ambulant and disabled individuals.
7. Switches for lighting, power sockets, heating control, etc. should be conveniently placed at heights above the floor level.
8. In flats, lifts should be provided to access all floors.
9. In houses, the structure around a stair should be strong enough to support a stair lift.
BS 8300: Design of buildings and their approaches to meet the needs of disabled people is a Code of Practice that complements the Building Regulations and the Disability Discrimination Act. It is based on research commissioned by the government to study the ergonomics of modern buildings. The Standard focuses on the perspective of disabled users, considering both residential and public buildings. It also takes into account the participation of disabled individuals in sports events, conferences, and performances.
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990
The Town and Country Planning Act 1990 establishes the procedures for land development and building construction. It is administered through a hierarchy of government, regional offices, and local planning departments. Central government, represented by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), issues departmental circulars or policy planning guidance (PPG) to county planning departments. These PPGs provide directives for implementing government policies on large-scale development projects, such as the Thames Gateway.
The document includes goals and a viewpoint regarding housing needs, communication systems, transportation, social facilities, green belts, redevelopment, retail, and commercial plans.
The development policy is formulated by county planning departments within the framework set by the ODPM, known as the Structure Plan.
Structure plans take into account both “brownfield” sites (typically old industrial buildings) and “greenfield” sites (undeveloped land), in accordance with projected future requirements. These plans consider the social and economic demands for housing, as well as commercial, social, and recreational facilities, all within a sustainable communication and transportation infrastructure. Structure plans undergo public consultation and typically remain in effect for 15 years once established.
Local planning departments or authorities establish a Local Plan for their specific borough or region. This plan is developed within the framework of the Structure Plan, taking into consideration the economic, social, and practical balance of facilities for the different communities under their jurisdiction.
To ensure fairness and equal representation, local plans are subject to public and ODPM consultation. Additionally, local authorities are responsible for processing development applications within their area. These applications can range from minor additions to existing buildings to large-scale estate developments. The procedures for seeking planning consent vary depending on the size of the construction project. All applications require the submission of area and site plans, building elevations, forms declaring ownership or nature of interest in the proposal, and an administrative fee. In the event of an application being rejected, the applicant has the right to appeal to the ODPM.