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Some construction clients avoid health and safety specification

Some clients follow loopholes in the Construction Regulations 2014 to avoid compiling a Baseline Risk Assessment and Health and Safety Specification.

In terms of the amendment promulgated in February 2014, the Construction Baseline Risk Assessment and Health and Safety Specification have to be “sufficiently documented, coherent, and site specific”, writes Rudy Maritz in comment to the Department of Labour.

Some aspects of definitions, notification of work and permits require review. There are always those seeking ways around compliance to minimise their work, and passing it down their management line.

Companies operating in a dynamic environment, and in particular local authorities, utility companies like Eskom, road maintenance and ITC network operators run a many short-term projects falling within definition (b) of “Construction Work”.

The Construction Regulations (CR) define a health and safety specification as a Site or Activity or Project-specific document, contradicting the text in CR5(1)(b) which states in has to be site specific, leaving out the activity and project portion of the definition.

This loophole invites opportunity for construction clients to issue a form of “blanket” specification, based on an “overarching” or “activity -baseline risk assessment, while insisting that their appointed contractors maintain site-specific documents.

Some principals refuse to accept contractors’ Health and Safety Plans if not in accordance with the definition.

Due to the dynamic nature of most smaller infrastructure projects, few projects will invoke the need to notify the DOL, allowing these activities to occur below the radar, and defeating the objectives of the new regulations to minimise fatalities.

Fatalities on infrastructure projects

One company falling within this sphere of operation suffered 12 fatalities during 2012-2013, involving road traffic incidents, electrocution, falls from height, and a fall through unsound flooring, clearly indicating the hazardous nature of this type of “construction work”.

After careful analysis of the regulations, I am of the opinion that clients opting for the ‘shortcut’ invoke the requirements of CR3, and requires a construction permit. A collection of short and similar projects treated under a blanket HS specification will exceed 1800 person-days and will most certainly equate to a total value in excess of R13m.

A similar process is already in force under the National Environmental Management Act (Nema) where a collection of activities (not exceeding the threshold individually) requires Environmental Authorisation to proceed.

Application period proposal

Industries opting to treat a collection of sites as one project must therefore apply for a Construction Permit, regardless of the individual projects falling outside the criteria for permit application. The DOL should insist on these companies presenting an application for a period, perhaps 12 months, renewable annually.

No person could determine the risks associated with multiple projects over a widespread area such as South Africa. I believe it is a blatant attempt to circumvent the legal requirements of the changed regulations, a means to overcome the appointment of registered CHS Agents, Managers and officers, and defiance of the law.

The work performed by these companies often involves excavation work, working on structures and performing rope access work or other work at height.

Height access permits

Another industry benefiting from the changed regulations are the commercial cleaning industry, performing rope access from rooftops as high as 30 storeys and abseiling to clean windows.

As most of these tasks will never exceed the threshold, neither a permit or a notification is required, allowing them to go on without the DOL being aware of the extent of their activities. Sadly, the DOL will be notified where a serious or fatal accident occurred, but then it is too late.

I am of the opinion that the Construction Regulations 2014 require review. The first changes should be to the definition of construction work, to include a collection of smaller projects to require annual permits.

Sadly, the drafting of the new regulations was dominated by the Construction Industry, and excluded other industries performing “construction work”.

• Rudy Maritz is the validation manager at the consulting membership body NIOCCSA. He writes to the Department of Labour in his personal capacity and invites comment.

* See various comments on this post, on on posts regarding SACPCMP registration.
• DOL said it would publish guidelines on interpretation and enforcement by August 2014.

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