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The agony continues to pile on as more and more reports are received of contractors taking days and even weeks to gain access to construction projects. The main reason of course being that their “Safety File” has not been approved. Hours turn into days and days into weeks as the contractor attempts to meet the requirements presented to them by the client’s representative.
Not uncommon are the disturbing allegations of contractors being warned that the file they have compiled will achieve no more than 20% when reviewed and they would be better off purchasing a “Safety File” from a consultant, usually at an exorbitant fee. The contractor may be a specialist contractor who has taken the effort to develop work specific risk assessments and other relevant documents using experts in their field. On the other hand the  “Safety File” they have been recommended to buy would be compiled by a generalist possibly with limited insight into the associated risks and whose expertise lies in satisfying the client’s agent!

Health and Safety Specifications
If one were to examine the legislation are we led to believe that this was the intention of the legislator - that the “Safety File” should become the focal point of health and safety implementation on a construction site? It is my opinion that this is not the case. When reviewing the Construction Regulations1 there would seem to be a defined process or path which when followed appears to make good business sense.

Phase 1 - Client Health and Safety Specifications; The Client prepares project specific health and safety specifications. For the specifications to be relevant one is led to believe that relevant project specific factors would be considered by the person drafting the specifications.  These may include;
·Scope of work (what is being built?)
·Location of site and elements specific to the location (municipal by-laws, weather factors, geographical factors)
·Geo- technical report (Conditions of the soil, raise any concerns that may hinder the project progress)
·Baseline risk assessments based on scope of work (Is this a high rise building in a built up area? Is it a Greenfield site?)
·Controls specific to client requirements (two day induction, pink overalls, entrance to existing premises etc.)

Is it reasonable to assume that if the client appoints a principal contractor with the “necessary resources and skill” that this would include the premise that this contractor complies with South African law as a minimum and so the health and safety specifications need not be a regurgitation of the Basic Occupational Health and Safety Act and Construction Regulation (CR) requirements?

Phase 2 - The Health and Safety Plan
Following on from the preparation and issuing of the client’s health and safety specifications, the Principal Contractor is required to provide and demonstrate to the client a suitable and sufficiently documented health and safety Plan.  This plan should be based on the client’s documented health and safety specifications and provide record of how the factors raised in the specifications will be addressed ensuring the health and safety of the workers on the project. CR5(1) states that this plan is to be applied from the date of commencement of construction work.  This leads one to believe the Health and Safety specifications must be supplied to the contractor in good time and not on the first day or two weeks after commencement of construction work.

Phase 3 - Discussion and negotiation; The construction regulations continue to lead one through a process which at face value does not appear to be unreasonable (see diagram 1) and which continually refers back to the Health and Safety PLAN that was provided. This suggests that discussion and negotiation regarding the plans content should take place between the parties before final approval of the Health and Safety PLAN for implementation at commencement and for the duration of the construction work.

When conducting a word count in the two regulations - CR 4 and CR 5 on the words PLAN and FILE, then the word PLAN comes out a clear winner at 15 to 3.

Closer scrutiny of the three usages of the word file discloses the following;
1.CR 5(7) is the first referral and requires that a file is opened and kept on site by the contractor and “includes” all documentation required in terms of the act.
2.CR 5(8) necessitates that a consolidated health and safety file is handed over to the client by the principal contractor on completion of the construction works.
3.CR 5(9) requires that in addition to all the documents required an updated contractors list with agreements between the parties and the type of work done is included.

Now I would like to believe the legislator is not for one minute suggesting that all this documentation should be available in the file from the outset of the project. The documentation referred to would include appointments, risk assessments, inspection reports, inspection registers and minutes of meetings amongst others. All of which could only be generated through the duration of the project substantiating that the contractor has a health and safety plan which is being implemented for the duration of the construction work.

The consolidated health and safety file which is referred to requires more than  health and safety documentation, the regulation states; “… addition to the documentation referred to in sub regulation (7), include a record of all drawings, designs, materials used and other similar information concerning the completed structure.” This suggests a far more comprehensive document than just the standard health and safety file with copies of the monthly inspection reports and minutes of meetings. It sounds to me rather like the contract completion pack?

Experiences suggest that the health and safety FILE rather than the plan comes out a distant “winner” as the culprit for rejection. Some observers even suggesting the person evaluating the file does not even have the courtesy to read the health and safety plan!

Was this the intention of the task team who initiated the Construction Regulations in July 2003? Ten years and four months on and the Health and Safety FILE has taken on the form of a menacing monster. The Health and Safety FILE is an instrument of frustration for some and a healthy income for others.

In his article titled “There must be a better way” Dr Brett Solomon2 states that the safety strategies being employed simply have not delivered the results expected. The “Bureaucratic approach” into which the safety file syndrome surely falls prescribes in advance, rules and instructions which are often impossible to implement let alone enforce. Health and Safety becomes entirely management’s responsibility and when an incident occurs we review our policies and procedures rather than identify the root causes.

The time has come for practising Construction Health and Safety practitioners to reflect on this SAFETY FILE syndrome. We need to interrogate what were the intentions and ask if in its current form the SAFETY FILE is adding value to the business of protecting life and limb.

Doug Michell
CHS Manager
MBA North

1.South Africa. Construction Regulations 2003. Occupational Health and Safety Act No 85 of 1993. Johannesburg, South Africa: Lex Patria Publishers, 1993.
Solomon, B. 2013. There must be a better way - introducing a new era in safety. Saacosh2013.
The SACPCMP mandate