Last edited 22 Sep 2016

Risk assessment for construction

Note, this article relates to health and safety risks - for other risks, see Project risks see Risk Management

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM Regulations) are intended to ensure that health and safety issues are properly considered during a project’s development so that the risk of harm to those who build, use and maintain structures is reduced.

They require that as the design progresses, risks are identified and eliminated and residual risks are reduced and managed and that designers, principal designers, principal contractors and contractors take account of the 'principles of prevention' in carrying out their duties, which in general terms are:

(a) Avoid risks where possible.

(b) Evaluate those risks that cannot be avoided.

(c) Put in place proportionate measures that control them at source.

See principles of prevention for more information.

Whilst the specific process of preparing a formal risk assessment is not a requirement of the CDM regulations, regulation 3(6)(a) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations does require that risks are controlled in the workplace, including construction sites. This involves thinking about what might cause harm to people and deciding what steps to take to prevent that harm. This is known as risk assessment and might include:

  • General assessments of health and safety risks to which employees and others are exposed on construction sites.
  • Specific assessments for specific hazards such as: work at height; hazardous substances (COSHH); manual handling; noise; vibration and lead.

Where an employer employs five or more people, the significant findings of risk assessments must be recorded.

On construction projects, this may relate not only to the construction of the works, but also to temporary works and to the operation, maintenance, cleaning, alteration or demolition of the completed development. It may also relate to inherent risks in the site or its surroundings.

It is not necessary to be a health and safety expert to write a risk assessment, simply a ‘competent person’, which according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is ‘someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge’.

Risk assessment should not be a bureaucratic exercise but should focus on the identification, elimination and management of risks:

  • Identify the hazards.
  • Decide who might be harmed and how.
  • Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.
  • Record significant findings.
  • Review the assessment and update if necessary.

Information produced as a consequence of a risk assessment might be included in tender documents so that designers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers can take them into account when pricing their tenders and planning their work. Ultimately, it may, where relevant, be included in the health and safety file. However, as the CDM regulations require that designers and contractors are competent persons, information about risks need only be provided in relation to unusual risks or risks that are difficult to effectively manage.

Method statements are widely used in construction as a means of controlling specific health and safety risks that have been identified (perhaps following the preparation of a risk assessment) such as; lifting operations, demolition or dismantling, working at height (such as work on roofs), installing equipment, and the use of plant. A method statement helps manage the work and ensures that the necessary precautions have been communicated to those involved.

Together, risk assessments and method statements are sometimes described as 'RAMS'. RAMS may be required by third parties to demonstrate that health and safety has been properly considered and that the requirements of the CDM regulations have been satisfied. For example, a contractor may require submission of RAMS form sub-contractors, a landlord may require submission of RAMS from tenants proposing to carry out works to a property, or a client may require submission of RAMS from contractors operating on their premises.

NB It is generally accepted that as well as complying with regulations and reducing the incidence of accidents, risk assessment also improves quality and reduces the costs of the development.

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I am an experienced experienced Architectural Designer with over 30 years architectural and building experience on both sides of the fence including 20 years experience as a construction health and safety professional and combing my health and safety and architectural experience for the last 20 years. One would think the the new CDM 2015 regs with the new role of Principal Designer would play straight into my hands, but I find myself in a dilemma....

I know that as a health and safety professional that the only tool I have for assessing risk is a risk assessment, a quantitative risk assessment, but I feel that the HSE have tried to water this down, and I feel that that various health and safety organisations do not consider risk assessment even as a High, Medium, or Low is necessary, but merely mentioning a risk that you have considered is enough and is 'suitable and sufficient' for the purposes of building a if, if you have not considered a risk it is not worthy, if you have, it is worthy and therefore a risk and a significant risk.

The new CDM2015 goes on about 'so far as is reasonably practicable,' (Reg 9 (2) the guidance L153 (para 84) tells us 'Once the risks have been considered, the level of detail in the information provided to those who need it should be proportionate to the risks remaining. Insignificant risks can usually be ignored, as can those arising from routine construction activities, unless the design worsens or significantly alters these risks.'

The only way I know to be able to assess whether or not a hazard posses a significant risk or not is to undertake a quantitative risk assessment based on the information we have to hand, only with this assessment can we begin to make a judgement as to whether a risk is 'insignificant' or not, and whether or not the 'design worsens or significantly alters the risk'

I feel that merely stating a list of potential hazards that may come into ones head whilst considering a project, whilst being overcautious not to mention insignificant or trivial risks, or even those 'arising form routine construction activities' will mean that many of the risks that are truly significant and will harm construction workers and others who may be affect the works during construction and in the use and maintenance of the building will be missed out....people will contract occupational diseases, and people will be injured, people will die because others have been over cautious and not mentioned the risks which expose construction workers, 'neighbours' because they have not considered the ACTUAL RISKS THAT ARE STARING THEM IN THE FACE