Construction work

The construction industry is one of NSW’s highest risk industries. Every year, thousands of workers are injured on NSW construction sites – or killed.

Over the past four years around 30,000 workers were injured on NSW construction sites because of unsafe work practices. Thirty-three were killed and more than 2000 have been left permanently disabled.

Graphic of construction worker wearing hard hat with text 25,000 workers injured, 1700+ permanently disabled, 23 dead

Must do's

There are specific laws about working on construction sites safely. Here we summarise those laws and give you some practical tips.

Some laws relate to those who commission construction work, some relate to designers of structures, and others are more general.

For people who commission construction work

Consult with designer

You must consult with the designer about any risks that may arise from the design aspects of construction work on a structure – and let the designer know about any hazards and risks on the construction site. Minimise risks as much as possible or, where you can, get rid of them altogether.

If you engage a principal contractor for a construction project – ie construction work valued at $250,000 or more – inform them of the hazards and risks.

For designers

Give safety report to person who commissions design

You must give the person who commissions the design of a structure a written safety report. The report must specify any design hazards in construction work on the structure.

General requirements

Manage risks

You must manage the risks associated with the construction work, including risks when storing, transporting and disposing of construction materials and waste, storing plant, and managing on-site traffic and essential services.

Restrict site access

Secure the site from unauthorised access.

Prepare safe work method statement

If you carry out high risk construction work, you must ensure a safe work method statement (SWMS) is prepared before work commences. If you employ a principal contractor, they must take all reasonable steps to get a copy of the SWMS before the work commences.

Take into account all relevant matters, including circumstances that may affect the work and work health and safety management plans that may be prepared in connection with a construction project.

If the SWMS is not followed, stop work immediately and only recommence when the statement can be followed.

The SWMS must be understandable to those who use it and should outline:

  • the work involved
  • the hazards and risks
  • the control measures and how they will be implemented, monitored and reviewed

Give a copy of the SWMS to the principal contractor before the work commences. Keep a copy available for inspection and readily accessible to workers until the work is completed, or for at least two years if there is a notifiable incident.

The SWMS must be reviewed and, if necessary, revised when control measures are changed after a notifiable incident.

Doing excavation work

When excavation work is carried out, get information about the underground essential services that are at the site and at any adjacent areas, before work commences.

Give that information to anyone you engage to carry out the excavation work.

Undertaking a construction project

If the construction work is valued at $250,000 or more, it is called a construction project and a principal contractor must oversee the project.

You are the principal contractor, unless you appoint another principal contractor with authority to have management or control of the workplace and discharge the duties of the principal contractor.

As principal contractor, you must display signs visible to outsiders that highlight your name, 24-hour phone numbers and location of the site office.

As principal contractor, you must also prepare a work health and safety management plan before work commences, which includes:

  • the names, positions and specific responsibilities of those with health and safety responsibilities
  • the arrangements for consultation, cooperation and coordination of activities that you have with others who have work health and safety responsibilities at the site
  • the arrangements in place should a health and safety incident arise
  • site-specific health and safety rules
  • the arrangements to ensure that everyone at the workplace is informed of those rules
  • the arrangements for the collection, assessment, monitoring and review of SWMS’s.

Penalties may apply if the plan is not reviewed and kept up-to-date, and if workers are not made aware before commencing work of the content of the plan and their right to inspect the plan.

Keep a copy of the plan (and all revised versions) available for inspection and readily accessible to workers until the project is completed – or for at least two years if there is a notifiable incident.

You are also responsible for ensuring compliance with laws about:

Train your workers

You must ensure all your workers are given general construction induction training, including retraining for those who have not carried out construction work for the past two years.

You must also ensure each of your workers holds a general construction induction card.

More information

We have developed the Pocket Guide to Construction Safety. This pocket-sized guide is full of safety checklists and advice that everyone on a construction site should know. Physical copies and an interactive digital version will be available soon.

For the specific laws about working safely on construction sites, see chapter 6 of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017.

There are also general work health and safety laws that will apply to you in any situation, including working on construction sites.

For general information, including templates for SWMS and safety management plans, see the code of practice for construction work.