Roles And Responsibilities Of Clients & Their Contractors


A contractor is anyone who is brought in to work and is not an employee. People with work experience, labour-only contracts, or temporary staff are considered employees. Contractors are used for maintenance, repairs, installation, construction, demolition, computer work, cleaning, security, health, safety, etc. Sometimes there are several contractors on-site at any one time. Clients need to think about how their work may affect each other’s and how they interact with the normal site occupier.

Legal Considerations

The HSW Act applies to all work activities. It requires employers to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of:

  • their employees;
  • other people at work on their site, including contractors;
  • members of the public who may be affected by their work.

All parties to a contract have specific responsibilities under health and safety law, and these cannot be passed on to someone else:

  • Employers are responsible for protecting people from harm caused by work activities. This includes the responsibility not to harm contractors and subcontractors on site.
  • Employees and contractors have to take care not to endanger themselves, their colleagues, or others affected by their work.
  • Contractors must also comply with the HSW Act and other health and safety legislation. When contractors are engaged, the activities of different employers do interact. So cooperation and communication are needed to make sure all parties can meet their obligations.
  • Employees have to cooperate with their employer on health and safety matters and not do anything that puts them or others at risk.
  • Employees must be trained and clearly instructed in their duties.
  • Self-employed people must not put themselves in danger or others who may be affected by what they do.
  • Suppliers of chemicals, machinery, and equipment must ensure their products or imports are safe and provide information.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations apply to everyone at work and encourage employers to take a more systematic approach to deal with health and safety by:

  • assessing the risks which affect employees and anyone who might be affected by the site occupier’s work, including contractors;
  • setting up emergency procedures;
  • providing training;
  • cooperating with others on health and safety matters, for example, contractors who share the site with an occupier;
  • Providing temporary workers, such as contractors, with health and safety information.

A legally binding contract governs most contracted work. Therefore, it is very important that the contract covers all parts of the work – for example, competent workers, safe access when working at height, fire precautions, and safe waste disposal. The principles of cooperation, coordination and communication between organizations underpin the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations and the CDM Regulations.

Construction (Design And Management) (CDM 2015) Regulations

Businesses often engage contractors for construction projects at one time or another to build, convert or extend premises and demolish buildings. The CDM 2015 Regulations apply to all construction projects.

All projects require the following:

  • Clients to check the competence of all their appointees; ensure there are suitable management arrangements for the project; allow sufficient time and resources for all stages; and provide pre-construction information to designers and contractors. There are special arrangements under regulations for domestic clients (see later in this section);
  • Designers to eliminate, reduce or control hazards and reduce risks during the design and construction stage and the maintenance and use of a building once it is built. They should also provide information about the remaining risks;
  • Contractors to plan, manage and monitor their work and that of employees; check the competence of all their appointees and employees; train their employees; provide information to their employees; comply with the requirements for health and safety on-site detailed in Part 4 of the Regulations and other Regulations such as the Work at Height Regulations, and ensure there are adequate welfare facilities for their employees;
  • Everyone, including workers, to: assure their competence; cooperate with others and coordinate work to ensure the health and safety of construction workers and others who may be affected by the work; report obvious risks; take account of the general principles of prevention in planning or carrying out construction work, and comply with the requirements in Part 4 of CDM 2015 and other relevant regulations for any work under their control.

For even small projects, clients should ensure that contractors provide:

  • information regarding the contractor’s health and safety policy;
  • information on the contractor’s health and safety organization detailing the responsibilities of individuals;
  • information on the contractor’s procedures and standards of safe working;
  • the method statements for the project in hand;
  • details on how the contractor will audit and implement its health and safety procedures;
  • procedures for investigating incidents and learning the lessons from them.

Smaller contractors may need some guidance to help them produce suitable method statements. While they do not need to be lengthy, they should set out those features essential to safe working, for example, access arrangements, PPE, control of chemical risks, and fire precautions.

Copies of relevant risk assessments for the undertaken should be requested. These need not be very detailed but should indicate the risk and the control methods to be used.

The client, principal designer, designer, principal contractor, and other contractors have specific roles under CDM 2015 Regulations.

Explanation Of Terms Used And Duties In CDM 2015

The Client

The client is an organization or individual for whom a construction project is undertaken. This can include, for example, local authorities, school governors, insurance companies, and project originators for private finance initiative (PFI) projects. If it is likely that more than one contractor will be working on a project at any one time, the client must appoint a principal designer and a principal contractor. The client has the following duties:

  • make arrangements for managing the project, including the allocation of sufficient time and other resources, and to ensure that construction work is carried out safely so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • ensure that the welfare requirements in Schedule 2 of the regulations are followed;
  • Appoint in writing a designer with control over the pre-construction phase as principal designer and a contractor as principal contractor. If the client does not appoint a principal designer, the client must fulfil the duties of the principal designer;
  • provide pre-construction information to each designer and each contractor engaged in the project;
  • take reasonable steps to ensure that the health and safety arrangements are maintained and reviewed throughout the project;
  • ensure that the principal designer complies with their duties under regulations;
  • ensure that the principal contractor complies with their duties under regulations;
  • ensure before the construction phase begins that the principal contractor (or contractor if only one is used) draws up a construction phase plan;
  • Ensure that the principal designer prepares an appropriate health and safety file for the project, which: includes information on asbestos as required under the Control of Asbestos Regulations; is revised from time to time; is kept available for inspection, and is passed on if interest in the project passes to another client.

Domestic clients are a special case and do not have specific duties under CDM 2015.

The Principal Designer

The principal designer must plan, manage, monitor, and coordinate the pre-construction phase of a project, taking into account the general principles of prevention to ensure:

  • the project is carried out safely so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • assistance is given to the client for the provision of pre-construction information;
  • health and safety risks are identified, eliminated, controlled, or reduced;
  • the cooperation of everyone working on the project; X the preparation and revision as necessary of the health and safety file;
  • the provision of pre-construction information to every designer and contractor; and
  • There is a liaison with the principal contractor for the project’s duration, particularly during the preparation of the construction phase plan.


Designers are those who have a trade or a business that involves them in:

  • Preparing designs for construction work, including variations. This includes organizing drawings, design details, specifications, bills of quantities, and the specification (or prohibition) of articles and substances, as well as all the related analysis, calculations, and preparatory work; and
  • Arranging for their employees or other people under their control to prepare designs relating to a structure or part of a structure.

It does not matter whether the design is recorded (e.g., on paper or a computer) or not (e.g., it is communicated only orally).

Designers may include:

  • architects, civil and structural engineers, building surveyors, landscape architects, other consultants, manufacturers, and design practices (of whatever discipline) contributing to, or having overall responsibility for, any part of the design, for example, drainage engineers;
  • anyone who specifies or alters a design or who specifies the use of a particular method of work or material, such as a design manager, a quantity surveyor who insists on a specific material, or a client who stipulates a particular layout for a new building;
  • building service designers, engineering practices, or others designing plant which forms part of the permanent structure (including lifts, heating, ventilation, and electrical systems), for example, a specialist provider of permanent fire-extinguishing installations;
  • those purchasing materials where the choice has been left open, for example, those purchasing building blocks, and so deciding the weights that a bricklayer must handle;
  • contractors carrying out design work as part of their contribution to a project, such as an engineering contractor providing design, procurement, and construction management services;
  • temporary works engineers, including those designing auxiliary structures, such as formwork, falsework, façade retention schemes, scaffolding, and sheet piling;
  • interior designers, including shop-fitters who also develop the design;
  • heritage organizations which specify how to work are to be done in detail, for example, providing detailed requirements to stabilize existing structures; and
  • Those determine how buildings and structures are altered, for example, during refurbishment, which has the potential for partial or complete collapse.

Therefore, a designer includes architects, consulting engineers, quantity surveyors, building service engineers, and temporary works engineers under CDM.

The duties of the designer are:

  • before starting work, be satisfied that the client is aware of their duties under CDM 2015;
  • to take into account the general principles of prevention to eliminate risks for anyone: working on the project; maintaining or cleaning a structure; or using a structure designed as a workplace;
  • if elimination is not possible, the designer must, so far as is reasonably practicable: take steps to reduce and control health and safety risks through the design process; provide information about health and safety risks to the principal designer; ensure appropriate information is contained in the health and safety file; and
  • Provide the design with sufficient information to help clients, other designers, and contractors fulfil their duties under CDM.

The Principal Contractor

The principal contractor is the contractor appointed by the client. The principal contractor can be an organization or an individual and is the main or managing contractor. The principal contractor must consult and engage with workers on the project. A principal contractor’s key duties are to coordinate and manage the project’s construction phase and ensure the health and safety of everybody involved with the construction work or who is affected by it. Other duties are to ensure that:

  • construction work is carried out safely so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • a construction phase plan is prepared prior to set up a site and reviewed and revised as necessary;
  • there is the coordination of the implementation of legal requirements and the construction phase plan for all people on-site;
  • necessary site health and safety rules are drawn up;
  • suitable site induction is provided;
  • access by unauthorized persons is controlled, preventing unauthorized access;
  • the welfare requirements in Schedule 2 of the regulations are provided throughout the construction phase;
  • there is a liaison with the principal designer throughout the project, particularly regarding information for the health and safety file and management of the construction phase plan; and
  • The health and safety file is appropriately updated, reviewed, and revised to take account of changes.

The Contractor

The contractor is any person who undertakes or manages construction work in the course or furtherance of a business. A contractor has the following duties:

  • not to undertake construction work on a project unless satisfied that the client is aware of their duties under CDM 2015;
  • to plan, manage and monitor the way construction work is done to ensure it is safe so far as is reasonably practicable;
  • where there is no principal contractor, to ensure that a construction phase plan is drawn up prior to setting up the site;
  • to provide any employees or persons under their control any information and instruction to ensure the safety of the project, including suitable site induction; emergency procedures; information on risks to their health and safety either identified by their risk assessments or from another contractor’s operations;
  • to provide any other health and safety training required by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations;
  • to not start work until access to unauthorized persons is controlled;
  • to ensure that the welfare requirements in Schedule 2 of the regulations are provided for employees and others under their control;
  • to comply with any directions given by the principal designer or principal contractor and any site rules; and
  • To consult with their workers.

Pre-Construction Health And Safety Information

The client must provide designers and contractors with specific health and safety information to identify the hazards and risks associated with the design and construction work. The information must be identified, assembled, and supplied in good time, so that those who need it during the preparation of a bid for construction work or the planning of such work may estimate the resources required to enable the design, planning, and construction work to be properly organized and carried out.

Construction Phase Health And Safety Plan

The principal contractor must define how the construction phase will be managed, and the key health and safety issues for a particular project must be recorded. The health and safety plan should outline the organization and arrangements required to manage risks and coordinate the work on site. It should not be a repository for detailed generic risk assessments, records of how decisions were reached, or detailed method statements. Still, for example, it may set out when such documents will need to be prepared. It should be well focused, clear, and easy for contractors and others to understand – emphasizing key points and avoiding irrelevant material. All relevant parties must cooperate in developing and implementing the plan as work progresses.

The plan must be tailored to the particular project, and relevant photographs and sketches will simplify and shorten explanations. The program should be organized to easily make relevant sections available to designers and contractors.

The construction phase health and safety plan for the initial phase of the construction work must be prepared before any work begins. Further details may be added as completed designs become available and construction work proceeds.

Health And Safety File

This is a record of health and safety information for the client to retain. It alerts those responsible for the structure and equipment to the significant health and safety risks that will need to be addressed during subsequent use, construction, maintenance, cleaning, repair, alterations, refurbishment, and demolition work.

Method Statement

This is a formal document that describes the sequences of operations for safe working that will ensure health and safety during the performance of a task. It results from the risk assessment for the task or operation and the identified control measures. If the risk is low, a verbal statement may normally suffice.

Notifiable Work

Construction work is notifiable to the HSE if it lasts longer than 30 working days and has more than 20 workers simultaneously or will involve more than 500 person-days of work (e.g., 50 people working for 10 days). Holidays and weekends are not counted if there is no construction work on those days. The client is responsible for making the notification as soon as possible after their appointment to the particular project. The notice must be displayed where it can be read by people working on the site and must be updated as necessary.

Domestic Clients

Unless there is a written agreement between the domestic client and the principal designer, the client’s duties must be carried out by the contractor or principal contractor where there is more than one. Where there is more than one contractor, the domestic client must appoint a principal designer and principal contractor in writing. Where no appointment is made, the first designer and contractor appointed are deemed the principal ones in each case.