Australia: How safe is your construction work, site and plant? Checklist for the construction industry

Last Updated: 7 January 2015
Article by Greg McCann and Julian Mellick

In brief – Check the latest Safe Work Australia codes and guidance material

To assist construction industry participants to comply with the latest work health and safety (WHS) codes and guidance material, we have produced a checklist that you can use to spot check your own systems, related specifically to construction work, safe design of structures, managing the risks of plant in the workplace and scaffolds and scaffolding work.

Realise that WHS regulations affect core activities

Many construction industry participants are still not up to date with the most recent WHS codes of practice and guidance material. This affects core activities like design and construction, risks like plant and falls; and specific processes like excavation and demolition.

Safe Work Australia's codes and guidance material relevant to construction

Safe Work Australia's most recent model Codes of Practice cover:

Safe Work Australia's most recent guidance material covers:

Ensure safety and avoid litigation by complying with these codes and guidelines

The codes are critical compliance tools because they are used in court as evidence of what is known about a risk and what is a reasonably practicable response to it. They are also used by WorkCover inspectors when issuing improvement or prohibition notices.

Key questions to ask and traps to look out for

To help you comply, we've picked some key tips and traps in relation to some of the new codes and guidelines so that you can perform a spot check against your current systems.

Spot check against the construction work code

Do you consult, cooperate and coordinate as required by part 1.7? Taking toolbox talks (TTs) as an example, do you:

  • use TTs to keep a record of the topic covered, attendees and any feedback received?
  • organise a program of TTs to give workers sufficient opportunity to provide input into how risks should be controlled?
  • monitor the effectiveness of TTs through safety outcomes (e.g. control measures implemented and near misses)?

Are your WHS management plans (WHSMP) and safe work method statements (SWMS) compliant? How do your SWMS processes stack up against part 4 and appendices D and E? How do your WHSMP processes stack up against part 5 and appendices F-H? For example:

  • Do you review any generic SWMS to see if they take into account the specific workplace?
  • Do your SMWS include the name, date and signature of workers who have been consulted on the SWMS?
  • Do you give subcontractors a copy of your WHSMP and ensure that their workers are relevantly aware of its contents, prior to commencing work?
  • Do you review the plan each time site conditions change?

Do your general workplace arrangements satisfy part 7 and appendices I and J? For example, do you:

  • actively check and monitor compliance?
  • understand that you cannot rely upon contractual arrangements alone to ensure compliance?

Spot check against the safe design of structures code

Are you aware that you can be deemed to be a designer and have associated WHS design obligations if you ever:

  • alter/modify a design/plans without consulting the original/subsequent designer?
  • specify how structural alteration, demolition or dismantling work is to be carried out?

If you commission construction work, do you:

  • provide the designer with any information that the client has in relation to site hazards and risks?
  • ensure that you give the principal contractor a written safety report from the designer about any unusual design features which present hazards/risks during the construction phase?

Does the design process satisfy the requirements in parts 2-4, including in relation to design integration? For example:

  • Has information been provided on significant hazards, such as heavy prefabricated elements, access problems or temporary work (e.g. bracing of steel or concrete frame buildings)?
  • Is it possible to design permanent stairways and schedule them for the beginning of construction, to help prevent falls and other hazards associated with temporary stairs and scaffolding?
  • Can adequate clearance between the structure and overhead electric lines be provided by burying, disconnecting or re-routing cables before construction begins, to avoid contact when operating cranes and other tall equipment?
  • Have the hazards in the appendix B checklist been addressed?

Spot check against the managing the risks of plant in the workplace code

Do you know when you are deemed to have additional duties in relation to plant? For example:

  • Are you aware that if you own and operate plant in your workplace and you decide to modify it yourself, you will have the duties of a designer and manufacturer (in addition to other duties)?
  • Do you realise that even if you do not own plant, you may be deemed to have management and control of it if you install, commission, maintain, operate, test, repair, hire out or lease it?
  • Do you do all that is reasonably practicable to ensure the safe provision, maintenance, use, handling, storage and transport of plant you manage or control?
  • Do you keep the records required by part 6 for plant you manage or control (including information, instruction and training provided to workers, and competencies of operators)?

Is all of the plant listed in appendix A design registered before supply and item registered before use? For example, are tower cranes, 5T+ gantry cranes, 10T+ bridge cranes, 10T+ mobile cranes, lifts, 2.4m+ hoists and prefabricated scaffolding appropriately registered? (Some require both design and plant registration.)

Are plant hazards identified, assessed, controlled, monitored and reviewed as set out in parts 2, 3 and 5 and appendix B? For example:

  • Do relevant workers understand the control measures?
  • Have all hazards associated with the plant been identified?
  • Are safety procedures being followed?

Spot check against the guidance material for scaffolds and scaffolding work

  • Does the person undertaking scaffolding work on your site have a basic, intermediate or advanced scaffolding licence as required?
  • Have you obtained a copy of the safety report on any specific or unusual scaffold designs (e.g. where an unusual base structure has to be erected to support the scaffold)?
  • Are you aware that in some cases a high risk work licence may not be required to erect a scaffold (e.g. because it is less than four metres) but there may still be need for a SWMS because there is a risk that a person may fall more than two metres?

Schedule periodic audits against regulations

If you answer no to any of the questions in the spot check, it's likely that you need to review your processes urgently.

Prudent practice is to schedule a periodic audit against the latest regulatory material, including the codes, guidelines, Australian Standards and National Construction Code.

The audit should separately address each of the WHS systems applicable to your business, including SWMS, WHSMPs, TTs, licences, plant registrations, supervision, inductions and risk reviews.

Julian Mellick Greg McCann
Construction and engineering
CBP Lawyers

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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Greg McCann
Julian Mellick
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