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Building and construction work often brings up questions of occupational safety and whose liability it is. Occupational safety is not only important for large construction projects, but in housing companies or in construction work undertaken in detached houses attention also needs to be paid to whether the work is done professionally and safely.

In order to avoid liability (including liability for compensation) coming as a surprise in connection with a possible accident, it is important that each party knows its responsibilities and works according to them. Defining safety responsibilities should therefore be seen as an important part of construction projects’ risk management.

Parties do not have to reinvent the wheel in the distribution of responsibilities, because the legislature has provided the responsibilities of the various parties of the contract in the Occupational Safety and Health Act and in the Decree on the Safety of Construction Work issued under this Act. In analysing these two instruments it can be stated that, as a general rule, liability for occupational safety on a shared construction site falls on the principle contractor.

Who then is the principle contractor?

Principle contractor refers to the main contractor designated by the developer or an employer who has principal control on the site, or in the absence of thereof, the developer itself. The developer’s obligations expressly include naming the principle contractor. If a principle contractor has not been designated for the site, the developer is also responsible for the duties of the principle contractor.

Whoever takes on the responsibilities of the principle contractor must have sufficient competence and expertise to take care of the set safety obligations. The principle contractor shall co-operate with the safety coordinator appointed by the developer.

What do the principle contractor’s safety responsibilities actually include on a general level?

The principle contractor is responsible for ensuring that the construction safety plans are prepared before the start of the work. The purpose of the plan is to investigate and identify the hazards and risk factors associated with the tasks carried out at the site, the conditions and the working environment, as well as to remove these accordingly. If hazards or risk factors cannot be removed, their impact on the safety and health of those working on or in the vicinity of the site must be assessed. The principle contractor shall also take care of plans for the use of the site area (including e.g., cranes, the location of machinery and building equipment, walk and driveways). The plans must be kept up to date during the construction period and updated to reflect any changes in circumstances.

For larger construction works (lasting more than a month and construction sites with at least 10 employees or 500 person-days), the principle contractor must also notify the labour inspectorate about the construction site before the start of the work.

During the construction phase, the principle contractor is responsible for site management and general co-operation between the parties (e.g., dissemination of information, co-ordination of activities, overall cleanliness and order of the site area). In addition, the principle contractor shall constantly monitor the operations of each party working on the site, the fulfilment of obligations, the state of occupational safety and the safety of work practices. The principle contractor shall therefore designate a qualified person to be in charge of the construction site and name deputy to him/her.

The principle contractor shall also maintain a list of employees and self-employed workers working on the site, as well as of their information. The principle contractor shall submit this information to the tax administration if the value of the work purchased by the developer for the entire project exceeds 15,000 euros.

Each person is responsible for their own actions

Of course, the principle contractor is not alone in creating safety, but each person working at the construction site must take care that they act responsibly and in accordance with the instructions and rules provided, so as not to pose a danger to others operating in the construction site. Intervening in incorrect practices and possible deficiencies, as well as presenting proposals for improvement is also a requirement for the development of occupational safety.

Thus, everyone’s actions at the construction site matter. So please take care of your own safety as well as that of your co-workers.