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Dear employer: Do you know your sub-contractor's health and safety responsibilities?

by , 10 March 2015
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Act, as an employer, you're responsible for the health and safety of all persons on your premise. In the construction industry, for instance, it's very likely that you'll the the client of a sub-contractor.

Do you know your sub-contractor's health and safety responsibilities? Are you sure he's following them?

Let's take a look:


Your sub-contractors health and safety responsibilities fall under the following three areas of law:

1. Contract law;
2. Common law; and
3. Statute law.

Let's look at them in more detail:

1. Contractual obligations

As stated by the law, the Principal Contractor manages the relationship with the sub-contractors with the contract they sign. This means the sub-contractor gains responsibilities that he must fulfill (OHS Act).

Although you have overall responsibility for the site, this doesn't remove any responsibility from the subcontractors.

Here are the three non-negotiable responsibilities of all subcontractors

Your sub-contractors must:

- Ensure they comply with the Construction Regulations and any health and safety contractual requirements. This includes giving employees protective clothing and equipment. For example, safety helmets, safety belts, eye protection, etc


- Take disciplinary action against anyone who doesn't comply with safety requirements.

- Ensure they inform you of any work they need to undertake outside normal working hours. Including weekends and public holidays.

Remember: Your Principal Contractor must state if first aid or other welfare arrangements like toilets and change rooms, are available to your contractors (Section 37, OHSA). If it's not available, you have to supply it for your employees (Regulation 30 of the Construction Regulations, 2014).

2. Common law obligations

Keep in mind that both you and your sub-contractors have a duty towards anyone you might affect by your operations and you have to also protect your employees from harm.

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Pay attention to the fact that they can sue for compensation if they suffer loss or ill health or injury due to you or your sub-contractor's negligence!

So you must take reasonable care to protect your employees and others you affect by your activities.

Otherwise, your employee can sue for negligence at common law. He'll have to show that you or your subcontractor were negligent and didn't care for his safety.

3. Statutory obligations

On this aspect, generally, both your Principal Contractor, and each subcontractor, are legally responsible for the safety and health of the people they employ or control and you can't pass this responsibility to another contractor.

If you break your statutory obligation, it doesn't always matter if you were negligent. It's a criminal offence and your Principal Contractor or sub-contractors are liable to fines and sometimes imprisonment, or both!

Keep all this in mind and be safe while preventing any accidents and obeying the law! Also, don't forget that if you use labour-only sub-contractors, you must know your responsibilities and that you'll be held responsible if they don't comply.






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