A Short Health and Safety Guide for an Employer (Client) when building work must be done on the premises


A short guide for an employer

Numerous clients, especially those who only occasionally need to have certain work done, are not experts in specialised tasks or work, and thus, for this reason, such clients employ contractors to conduct such tasks.

Although clients are not actively managing or supervising the work themselves, they play a substantial part in how the work will be carried out. Despite the size of the project, the client decides on the designer and the contractor to complete the task and how much capital, time, and resources are available.

The decisions made by the client will impact on the health, safety, and the welfare of the workers as well as others who are affected by the work.

The OHS Act, 85 of 1993 as well as other regulations, are the guidelines needed in choosing the right team for the work and helping them work together in ensuring health and safety.

The section below features a short OHS guide for an employer (client) when building work must be done on the premises.

A Short Health and Safety Guide for an Employer (Client) when building work must be done on the premises image

Appoint the right team at the right time

Should more than one contractor be needed for a project, the employer (client) must appoint a principal designer and principal contractor in writing.

The principal designer is needed for planning, managing, and coordinating the planning and design work. The principal designer must be appointed as early as possible so that they can help the client gather information relevant to the project. They must also ensure that the designers have done all that is possible to ensure that the building can be erected safely.

The function of the principal contractor is to plan, manage, and coordinate the building work. They must be appointed as soon as possible so that they can be involved in discussions with the principal designer regarding the work to be done.

Appointing the right people involves ensuring that designers and contractors have the necessary skills, knowledge, and experience to identify, reduce, and manage risks that pose a threat to OHS, which also applies when appointing a company instead of an individual.

Both the designers and the contractors must provide references from previous clients for similar work done and explain how the project can be done safely.

Professional bodies can help employers in choosing their architect and other designers. There are also legitimate websites that list businesses that have been assessed on their OHS management.


Arrangements that must be in place for managing and organising the project

It is more likely that work will be done without harming anyone and within the given timeframe should it be carefully planned and managed. Often, the work may be complex and involve numerous trades, which can often involve high-risk work such as some of the work listed below.

The principal designer must understand such types of risk and try to avoid them when the project is in its design phase. These risks must be managed by the principal contractor or builder on site.

The largest causes of accidents and ill health in building work which must be managed by the designer and contractor include some of the following.


Falls from height

  • Make sure that ladders are in good condition, at a 1:4 angle, and that they are tied or footed.
  • Prevent people as well as materials falling from roofs, gable ends, working platforms and open edges by using guardrails, midrails, and toe boards.
  • Ensure that fragile roof surfaces are covered and that working platforms that have guard rails are used either on or below the roof.


Collapse of excavations

Shore excavations: such must be covered or barriered to eliminate the risk of people or vehicles falling into it.


Collapse of structures

Support structures such as walls, beams, chimney breasts as well as roofs, by using props. Where props are used, ensure that they are installed by a competent person.


Exposure to building dusts

Dust prevention can be ensured by making use of wet cutting and vacuum extraction on tools, making use of a vacuum cleaner instead of sweeping, and using a suitable, well-fitting mask.


Exposure to asbestos

Work must not be started if it is suspected that asbestos may be present and until a demolition/refurbishment survey has been carried out.



The electricity supply along with other services must be switched off before drilling is done on walls. Excavators or power tools must not be used near suspected buried services.


Protect members from the public, the client, and others

The site must be secured, and net scaffolds and rubbish chutes must be used.

The client must discuss such risks with the designer and builder before work commences as well as throughout the project on how they can be managed.


Allow adequate time for the project

When work is rushed, it is likely to cause unsafe conditions and lead to inadequate quality of work. There must be enough time provided for the respective design, planning, and building work.


Provide adequate information

The designer and the builder both need specific information regarding what the client wants to be built, the site, and any existing structures or hazards which may be present such as asbestos, overhead cables, and buried services.

This information must be provided by the client at an early stage so that the designer and builder can plan, budget, and navigate around problems. The client can make use of their principal designer to obtain such information.

By putting together a ‘client brief’ in the earliest stages of the project which includes as much information as the client has about their project, along with the timeframe, budget for the project, and how the client expects the project to be managed, can help them set the standards for effectively managing health and safety.


Ensure efficient communication

The project can only run smoothly if everyone who is involved in the work consistently communicates, cooperates, and coordinates with one another.

During the phase concerned with design and planning, the client, their designer, and contractor must discuss issues which could affect what will be built, how it will be built, how it will be used, and how it will be maintained when the project is completed.

This can avoid that anyone is harmed or that there are unexpected costs as result of issues that were not considered when design changes could have been made easily.

In meeting with the designer and the contractor throughout the project, the client can deal with problems which could arise. It also allows for discussion regarding health and safety, to ensure that the requirements are met and maintained.

Health and Safety

Ensure adequate welfare facilities on site

The client must ensure that the contractor has made the necessary arrangements for welfare facilities to be provided for employees before the project starts.


Ensure that a phase plan is in place

The principal contractor, or contractor if there is only one contractor, must draw up a plan. The plan must explain how health and safety risks will be managed. It must be proportionate to the scale of the project as well as associated risks, and work must not start until this is in place.


Keep the health and safety file

At the end of the project, the principal designer must provide the client with a health and safety file. Should the principal designer leave before the project is completed, the principal contractor takes responsibility for this.

The safety file is a record of useful information which will help the client manage health and safety risk when there is future maintenance, repair, additional building work, or demolition.

The client must keep the file and make it available to anyone who needs to either alter or maintain the building and update it if any circumstances change. Should the building be rented out or sold, the client must ensure that the health and safety file is made available to renters or transferred to the new owner.


Protect members of the public and employees

Employers with employees and members of the public that visit the premises must ensure that all are protected from the risks arising from building work.

The client must therefore have discussions with the designer and contractor on how building work may affect how the business is run, for instance, having to re-route pedestrian access, making sure the signage at entrances is clear and concise, or change the way that deliveries operate.


Ensure that workplaces are designed correctly

Should the project revolve around a new workplace or alterations to an existing workplace, it must meet the necessary standards and regulations.


How can SafetyWallet help Employers and Contractors’ Health and Safety Compliance?

SafetyWallet works to ensure that its subscribers are supported and assisted in all matters relating to OHS, and through a partnership with MAKROSAFE and OHS Online, subscribers can ensure that they are a part in creating a safer, healthier, and more compliant working environment. To find out how you can ensure employers’ and contractor Health and Safety, contact us.

My Safety Shop


Posted date: 7th Mar 2021