Australia: New Obligations For Construction Stakeholders In Queensland

Last Updated: 11 September 2007
Article by Hedy Cray

The National Standard for Construction Work [NOHSC: 1016 (2005)] was declared by the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission in April 2005. At a national level, the Standard aims to protect persons from the hazards associated with construction work, assigns responsibilities to individuals to identify these hazards, and either eliminate them, or, where this is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks they pose.

On 1 July 2007, amendments to the Workplace Health and Safety Act 1999 (Qld) commenced to bring the Act into line with the Standard. The changes introduce new obligations for parties involved in, with some exceptions, "construction work" including clients, project managers, principal contractors and designers of structures. The fundamental impact of these amendments is greater responsibility on persons other than traditional workplace health and safety obligation holders, such as persons in control of workplaces, manufacturers and suppliers of substances and erectors and installers of plant.

Not unlike the Federal Building Construction Industry Improvement Act which draws a broad definition of "building industry participant, "client" is a new concept introduced by the amendments, and is defined as the person who commissions the construction work and engages a project manager to plan and manage the construction work or appoints a principal contractor to manage and perform the construction work.

Consequently, the definition of principal contractor has also been amended to refer to a person engaged by the "client" rather than a person engaged by the owner. Importantly, if no principal contractor is appointed by the client the client will be considered the principal contractor and assume the obligations of the principal contractor.

A new definition of project manager has also been inserted which is a person engaged by the client to carry out the planning and management of the construction work.

Ultimately, as the construction projects in Queensland continue to diversify and are often completed by a range of joint venture entities, the amendments are aimed at identifying key stakeholders and ensuring each party is vested with responsibility and where relevant, liability. Set out below is a summary of just some of these ever increasing obligations and how these have been allocated to relevant stakeholders.

Obligations of clients

The client is obliged to consult with designers, project managers or principal contractors, if applicable, about how the construction work can be undertaken in a way that prevents or minimises all risks to health and safety. If the client becomes aware of any information about hazards and risks relating to the site at which the construction work is to be undertaken, the client must give this information to the designer, project manager or principal contractor.

Clients are therefore obliged to take an active interest in the project and maintains a strict requirement to provide advice, feedback, and support to other stakeholders.

Obligations of project managers

The primary obligation of the project manager is to ensure construction work is planned and managed in a way that prevents or minimises risks to the health and safety of persons undertaking the work or persons at or near the workplace during the construction work. In discharging this obligation, the project manager must report to the client on the health and safety aspects of the work both before work begins and throughout the life of the project.

Obligations of principal contractors

The principal contractor maintains obligations to ensure the workplace health and safety of all persons arising from:

  • a hazard at the workplace for which no other person owes a workplace health and safety obligation; and
  • anything that has been provided for general use of persons at the workplace.

Further, the principal contractor must:

  • coordinate, supervise and oversee construction work in a way that prevents or minimises risks to the health and safety of persons at or near the workplace during the work
  • consult with each of the persons involved in the construction work in relation to identifying hazards associated with the work (ie. designer, project manager or other relevant person)
  • notify another person of any matter of which the principal contractor is aware or should reasonably be aware, that may effect the capacity of that person to comply with that persons obligations under the Act; and
  • provide safeguards and take safety measures prescribed under the regulations made for principal contractors.

As a result, the principal contractor maintains overarching obligations to be cognisant of all workplace health and safety responsibilities to ensure their own obligations can be complied with.

Impact of new provisions

With the increased obligations comes increased liability for these additional persons. Prior to the amendments the main workplace health and safety responsibilities rested with the owner of the site and the principal contractor. Obligations now rest on the client, or the person who commissioned the work, as well as the project manager and designer, to ensure the health and safety of persons on constructions. The interrelationship of many of the obligations requires all stakeholders to be alive to all workplace health and safety obligations or risk prosecution.

Thanks to Christy Miller and Shelley Clark for their help in writing this article.

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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