Clients can have a major impact and influence on the safety of any project, both at the design and construction stage, as well as during the life cycle of the project, writes William O'Keeffe

When we discuss health and safety on construction projects, we tend to focus on designers and contractors; however, an often forgotten key stakeholder in delivering safe projects – both at the construction stage and over the life cycle of the structure – is the client.

The client has a significant influence over the way their project is procured and managed and can set the agenda and the culture for health and safety throughout the process. Regardless of the size of the project, the client has contractual control, appoints designers, contractors and project supervisors, and determines the money, time and other resources available.

Because of this, the Safety Health & Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2013 make a client accountable for the impact their decisions and approaches have on health, safety and welfare on their project, and the influence of the client should not be limited to just statutory compliance.

Benefits of client engagement in project health and safety include:

• Reduction in accidents and incidents, protecting people;
• Helping to ensure that the client is compliant with current legislation;
• Protection of the client’s reputation and financial commitments;
• Value for money (attention to health and safety can bring benefits in relation to quality, costs and programme also);
• Reduction in waste generated in the project;
• Positive relationships with neighbours and the public;
• Easier, more economical and safer maintenance of the finished product;
• Safer operational outcomes for the end user;
• Safe and cheaper modifications to the structure in the future.

Health and Safety Authority (HSA) research has shown that on 45 per cent of sites where a fatality occurred, the clients had failed in their duties to appoint a Project Supervisor Design Process (PSDP) or a Project Supervisor Construction Stage (PSCS).

It was also found that 25 per cent of construction accidents were related to omissions or failures to address health and safety issues prior to the start of the construction stage (that is, during the design process).

Legal duties

The Safety Health & Welfare at Work (Construction) Regulations 2013 place legal duties on clients in relation to their safety obligations for their projects. These include:

Assess the competency of appointments
A client must take reasonable measures to ensure that designers, contractors and project supervisors are competent to carry out the works they have been allocated, or will allocate adequate resources to complete the work safely.

Appoint designers, PSDP, PSCS
A client must appoint a competent and adequately resourced PSDP before the start of any design work and appoint a competent and adequately resourced PSCS before the start of any construction work if:
• The work involves more than one contractor, or;
• There is a particular risk (as defined in Schedule 1 of the regulations), or;
• The work will last more than 30 days (or 500 person days).

Co-operate with the project supervisors
The client has a duty to co-operate with the PSDP, designers and contractors under regulations in providing relevant safety information for a construction project.

This information should be provided at the start of the design process. This information can then be assessed and considered during the design process and issued to tenderers prior to assessment and appointment of the PSCS and contractor.

The client may have such information available in an existing safety file. Hazards which are not discovered until the construction stage can lead to costly delays and changes in the construction programme.

The client must co-operate with the project supervisors to allow them to carry out their duties. This means allowing them sufficient time to perform their roles.

Supply necessary information
In addition to co-operating with the project supervisors, the client is required to supply any necessary information to the project supervisors that may have an impact on health and safety.

This information may include:
A/ Any information about previous activities carried out onsite that may affect safety.
B/ Any information regarding existing services.
C/ Information on any activities taking place around the site.
D/ Any factors that have to be taken into account during construction and maintenance of the facility.
E/ Information from previous or existing safety files.
F/ Any surrounding environmental conditions that must be considered.
G/ Any special health and safety requirements of the client, for their own business purposes.
H/ Information about non-employees who may be affected by the works.
I/ Information about any other work which is taking place on the site.

Retaining and making available the safety file

The client has a duty to retain the safety file and to pass it on to the new owner in the event of selling the structure. In the interim, it can be made available, as necessary, to anyone who needs it for the purposes of building an extension, refurbishment or performing maintenance.

For example, an existing safety file should be given to the designers and contractors for a new project. Upon completion of this work, the safety file must be updated to incorporate the changes made to the premises.

The safety file is a record of information, prepared by the PSDP for the client, which focuses on safety and health information relating to the newly completed facility. The information it contains will alert those who are responsible for the structure and the services within of the significant safety and health risks that will need to be addressed during subsequent maintenance, repair or other construction work, including demolition.

It is important for a client to consider the safety file as a safety user manual for their building with the content reflecting the nature and complexity of the structure. A well-put-together, user-friendly safety file benefits the client in several ways, far into the future of the structure.

These benefits include:
1.) A key tool used for future facility management and maintenance.
2.) Less time and cost associated with planning future maintenance works.
3.) Key safety information to hand, as and when it is required.
4.) Cuts down on cost incurred trying to find information.
5.) Client has the required information to hand to respond to emergencies.

Provide a copy of the safety and health plan at tender stage

The client is required to provide a copy of the safety and health plan prepared by the PSDP (known as the Preliminary Safety and Health Plan) to every person tendering for the project for the role of PSCS.

This process ensures that all parties tendering for the work are aware of the foreseeable risks (including particular risks) in relation to the project and can take account of these risks from both a management and budgeting point of view at the earliest opportunity.

In the case of projects on a domestic dwelling, it is sufficient for the client to provide the plan to the PSCS when they have been appointed.

Project notification

The client is required to notify the Health & Safety Authority (HSA) of the project in writing in an approved form where construction is likely to take more than 500 person days or 30 working days.

In some cases, persons working on behalf of the client, such as the architect or PSDP, may notify the project to the HSA on the client’s behalf; however, it must be remembered that the duty for notification rests with the client and a copy of the notification should be retained by the client for future records.


As we can see from the above, clients can have a major impact and influence on the safety of any project, both at the design and construction stage, as well as during the life cycle of the project. The benefits of clients engaging in safety not only assure legal compliance, but also the delivery of safer projects.

As a client, it is vital to consider that the design and construction stage of any project is just a short period in the overall life expectancy of any structure. Engagement with regard to the safe use and maintenance of the building at the concept and design stage in relation to safety will pay dividends long into the future of any project.

Author: William O’Keeffe, senior engineer and health & safety consultant, Arup. He joined the health and safety team at Arup in February 2017. He has more than 15 years’ experience in managing health and safety within the water/wastewater, gas, civil engineering, construction, pharmaceutical and process industries. He has an in-depth knowledge of legislation, best practice and practical applications relating to the sector in Ireland and the UK. O'RiordanCivilArup,construction,Health & Safety Authority
When we discuss health and safety on construction projects, we tend to focus on designers and contractors; however, an often forgotten key stakeholder in delivering safe projects – both at the construction stage and over the life cycle of the structure – is the client. The client has a significant influence...