Bill Barton says new rules will put a stop to cowboy builders

New regulations are being introduced governing the conduct of construction on sites in the UK. This follows the implementation of the EC Directive (92/57/EEC) relating to temporary or mobile construction, which came into force on 31 March 1995. The regulations result from the Health and Safety Commission's desire to improve safety on sites in the UK, where more than 1,000 people were killed and 3,000 suffered serious injuries last year.

They apply to all projects where construction work is due to last more than 30 days, or will involve more than 500 person days, and where five or more people will be on-site at any one time. However, they also apply to all demolition and dismantling work.

There are now regulations that must be met by the client, contractors and the professional team. The most important of these is the creation of the planning supervisor, who has extensive duties and obligations. These include notifying the HSE of the project; co-ordinating health and safety; ensuring clients, contractors and sub-contractors comply with the regulations; and preparing the health and safety file. This must be started before construction begins and maintained until after completion of the development.

Criminal liability is now a reality for the individuals concerned, perhaps the precursor to the much-vaunted corporate manslaughter charge. The onus is on the professional team, whether it consists of lawyers, architects or surveyors, to advise its clients of their obligations and duties before the contract commences and to ensure they continue to comply during construction. Ignorance is no longer bliss; it is negligent and almost certainly a breach of regulations.

The regulations' objective is to achieve a safe working environment, both in the construction phase and beyond.

Many professionals and contractors will be surprised, once they have given detailed consideration to the meaning and implementation of the regulations, that they are probably quite close to what they think they are already doing, or would do if asked. The regulations will help all professionals but lead to High Noon for the cowboys, who are going to be driven out of town.

Bill Barton is an associate in the litigation department at Walker Morris.