On-Site Safety

7 Top Tips to Keep Your Build Site Safe and Sound

1 Check CDM requirements

It is essential to check out the HSE website to see how Construction Design & Management regulations apply to your particular project. As a domestic client, CDM 2015 still applies, though the duties are normally transferred to the builder on a single-contractor project or the main contractor on a project involving more than one. A selfbuilder can also choose to have a written agreement with the designer to carry out these duties. 

If acting as the project manager employing subcontractors, selfbuilders must comply with all matters outlined in Part 4 of CDM 2015 and be expected to demonstrate sufficient competence to meet those requirements. However, their responsibilities are for coordination and management rather than direct supervision of on-site contractors who will be expected to comply with the CDM regulations.

Check what signage is required and ensure it is properly fixed in a prominent position close to the entrance to the site. Remember, there are fairly hefty fines for non-compliance so make sure you are familiar with your responsibilities.

For more information see Guide to CDM and Self Build »


2 Ensure personal protection 

A hard hat is essential building site safety wearThere are three essential items for anyone working or visiting a site. These are non-negotiable: a hard hat, high visibility waistcoat/jacket and safety boots or shoes. Other safety wear is dependent on the task being undertaken and, for the most part, is common sense.

Gloves are useful, with various types suited for specific jobs, from light gripper gloves for bricklayers to rigger gloves for heavy lifting work. Eye protection, too, is a must where there’s a risk of flying debris. Hearing should be protected with ear defenders or plugs when using or working close to noisy plant and tools. In dusty conditions use a mask and make sure it is up to the job in particularly dusty environments.

See Guide to 12 On-site Essentials for Selfbuilders »


3 Treat tools and plant equipment with care

Wood chisels, saws and anything with a sharp cutting edge should be treated with caution.

If you are hiring plant equipment it is essential that you have the proper training.

All power tools are potentially dangerous and need to be treated with respect. Electric saws and angle grinders are probably the most hazardous and each year claim a few fingers and cause eye damage. Mains powered tools are gradually being replaced with battery-powered models but 240v tools still tend to be used for continuous jobs or those that require a bit more muscle.

These tools must have a residual current device (RCD). Extension leads should also be checked regularly as they are easily damaged. For outdoor sites or when working with electric tools in wet or damp conditions 110v equipment should be used.

4 Check the lay of the land

Before any work starts on site check there are no underground electric cables, gas or water mains passing beneath the site. Hitting a live electric supply not only puts the digger driver’s life at risk but is also very expensive to repair. Overhead cables or any that will be within touching distance when the scaffolding is in place need to be protected. This is a job for the electric supply company.

Minidiggers and dumpers should be operated by certified drivers

Mini diggers and dumpers are widely used for foundation excavations and it’s important that they are operated by certified drivers.

No shoring is needed for standard foundation trenches that are one-metre deep, but it is for those more than 1.2m deep. Remember one cubic metre of soils weighs around 1.5 tonnes. Any deep excavations that are left open overnight or at weekends should be fenced.


5 Beware of heights

The two most common causes of fatalities on building sites are workers slipping off scaffolding or items falling on their heads.

All scaffolding must be erected by professionals and should be checked weekly.

Buying a job lot of second-hand scaffolding and erecting it yourself is not a good idea.

Scaffolding at roof level

Any alterations to the scaffold once it’s erected must be carried out by the original scaffolding firm. Ladders for access to scaffolding must be fixed at the top and extend at least one metre above the scaffold platform to provide a safe handhold. Scaffold towers are quick and easy to use but must be put up plumb on firm ground and if possible secured at the top to something solid.

Ladders should be used safely

The Health & Safety Executive recommends that ladders are only used when safer forms of access are not practical. If ladders are used on their own they need to be secured so there is no risk of the ladder slipping. Step ladders also need to be used sensibly. The Ladder Association produces guidelines for correct use of ladders.

6 Be careful when working alone

It is tempting and often necessary to be on site long after the contractors have gone home. It’s a good time to check progress and plan ahead, if managing the project yourself, or quietly getting on with jobs. It is also good practice to keep the site tidy and free of debris and hazardous obstacles. 

But take care both inside and outside. Avoid scaffolding and trenches outside, and beware of unfinished staircases and unstable floorboards inside.

7 Beware of asbestos

This applies more to the renovation or conversion of existing buildings than new builds. Hazardous materials such as asbestos are in the fabric of many older buildings in the form of lagging, insulating board, sprayed insulation, decorative coatings and cement. If found, seek professional help.

See other Next Steps Guides »