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Owner Builder Laws

Owner Builder Safety

Safety for Owner Builders

As the person responsible for their building site, an owner builder has special obligations under safety laws, and this is because the owner builder is considered to be the 'controller' of the site.  Apart from an owner builder's general obligation to ensure the health, safety and welfare of everyone on site, an owner builder's main legal obligations in relation to safety can be summarised in six basic steps.

Consult with everyone on site - The law requires that an owner builder consult with all individuals performing work on the site about matters that affect safety, and this is usually done when a person first starts working on the site, and again when the physical conditions and safety risks on the site change.  Consultation can involve unscheduled or scheduled site meetings, regular email communication, or even regular phone calls.  It may also include posting Safety Memos where workers can view them on the site, and allowing workers to provide feedback and make suggestions about safety issues.

Identify hazards on the site - This involves the owner builder identifying conditions or circumstances on the site which may pose a risk to anyone's health, safety or welfare.  An owner builder can identify hazards mainly by carrying out a physical site inspection, and/or by being advised by other workers that a hazard exists. 

Assess the risk of hazards - Once an owner builder has identified all hazards on the site, he or she needs to assess the risk of each hazard.  This involves combining the likelihood of something happening, with the consequences that may follow if it does happen.

Likelihood – Very likely, likely, unlikely, or very unlikely

Consequence – Killed / permanently disabled, long term / serious injury, medical attention, or first aid

The assessment will result in the risk being classed as either a high risk, medium risk, or a low risk, and this will determine how quickly an owner builder must act.  High risks involve immediate action needing to be taken and careful monitoring of such action, given that the likelihood and consequences are high.  On the other hand, low risks may not even require any action to be taken, although an owner builder may still wish to even further minimse any risk by introducing Personal Protective Equipment or something similar.

Eliminate or control the risks - Once an owner builder has assessed the risks, he or she must then take action to either eliminate or control those risks.  This step involves eliminating the risk altogether, or if this is not possible, reducing the risk using various methods.  Eliminating or controlling risks can be carried out using various methods knwon as the 'Hierarchy of Controls':

  • Elimination - a permanent solution where the risk is removed altogether (e.g. taking the hazardous step out of the process)
  • Substitution - involves replacing the risk with one that presents lower risk (e.g. lighter packages as a substitute for larger/heavier packages)
  • Isolation - involves isolating the risk away from people (e.g. moving a dangerous machine to another part of the workplace where no one else works)
  • Engineering - involves some structural change to the work environment (e.g. placing a sound proof enclosure around a noisy machine)
  • Administrative - eliminate / reduce exposure to a risk by following procedures or instructions (e.g. time limits, job rotations)
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - worn by people as a barrier between themselves and a risk (e.g. gloves, face mask, hard hat)

Monitor the risksOnce the owner builder has eliminated / controlled the risk, it is important to continually monitor the risk controls that the owner builder has implemented, to ensure that they are working effectively.

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