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April 6, 2022

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Historic buildings

What are the health & safety regulations for maintaining historic buildings?

Architectural conservation and the effective management of historic buildings and sites requires an ongoing programme of repair and maintenance. In this article, Dakota Murphey highlights the health and safety regulations for maintaining historic buildings, exploring the importance of compliance and the consequences of failing to do so.

The repair and maintenance of historic buildings is typically based on regular historic building condition assessments to check for issues such as structural instabilities and roof defects, moisture penetration and damp issues, fungal attack on timber including dry rot, and any pest-induced damage.

In the not so distant past, the status of a historic building often took precedence over requirements to comply with H&S legislation, if it could be shown that the character of the building could be adversely impacted by works arising from compliance with the regulations.

This certainly is not the case. Today, putting architectural conservation above personal safety is not an option, and historic building owners and managers must consider the full impact of regulatory compliance on the procurement, management and execution of any building works.

Which are the relevant laws?

When it comes to safe access for inspections, maintenance and repairs, the heritage sector is therefore not subject to any special treatment under health and safety law.

 Indeed, there is now a large body of health and safety regulations that must be considered before any works can be carried out, these include:

Health and Safety at Work Act 1974

This is the main piece of legislation covering health & safety in the workplace. It requires the building owner and employer to provide a safe work environment for employees, contractors and members of the public.

The Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

These regulations cover a wide range of basic health, safety and welfare issues concerning minimum requirements for the workplace. Specific requirements for construction work sites are included in the construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015.

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 (CDM)

The CDM framework of regulations cover all aspects of construction, from commissioning to demolition with regard to significant risks to both workers and others. The full scope of the regulations may not apply for minor repair or maintenance works.

The Confined Spaces Regulations 1997

Key requirements here dictate that work can only be carried out in confined spaces where there is a risk of death or serious injury from hazardous substances or dangerous conditions, if a safe system of work is in place and there are no reasonable alternative access options.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999

These regulations require employers to conduct risk assessments to all processes, activities, equipment and areas to ensure the health and safety of employees, contractors and visitors, including providing information, instruction and training as necessary.

The Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH) 

The control, prevention and protection of exposure to hazardous substances including lead, lead-based paints or chemical timber treatments are covered in the COSHH regulations, implementing processes to identify and assess risks and control exposure.

The Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002

This set of regulations specifically stipulate that all building owners must identify any asbestos contained within the building, register its locations, control its exposure and arrange for its removal by licensed contractors.

The Control of Lead at Work Regulations 2022

The directive here specifically covers the health risks created by work involving exposure to lead, placing duties on employers to carry out risk assessments and take measures to protect employees and non-employees.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005

According to these regulations, safe and suitable systems of work must be ensured where there is a high risk of a fall likely to cause personal injury resulting from working at height. This covers access to the workplace, whether for inspection, repair or maintenance.

How to consider the legislation?

In light of the recent legislation mentioned above, the provision of safe access to carry out inspections, maintenance and repair work to historic buildings must be carefully considered, the risks assessed, and proper measures and procedures implemented.

Managing health and safety in construction

According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), building and construction work has one of the highest rates for injury and ill health among all sectors in the UK.

In addition to regulatory compliance, safe building practices should be based on a wholesale approach that takes on board best practice guidance and information specific to the site. This includes appropriate site access and working methods that are sensitive to the historic fabric of the building and the realities of the location.

Carrying out site risk assessments

While complying with standard legislation, health & safety hazards in old structures will need to be approached with a different mindset that is appropriate for modern buildings.

Any risk assessment must consider the added complexity of the building’s historical and architectural significance. A methodical and structured analysis that looks at reducing the risk while not damaging the building or landscape is most likely to result in an appropriate risk control for each identified hazard.

The importance of fire risk assessments

Clearly, historic buildings, including some of our best loved heritage treasures, were not built with modern fire safety measures in mind.

Any fire risk assessment must not only provide a comprehensive overview but provide recommendations for realistic measures to be implemented.

A modern fire door is highly unlikely to be a sympathetic choice in the context of a period building, and insensitively positioned fire exit signs can damage the building fabric and its appearance. In an overriding effort to protect employees, residents and visitors, it’s important to explore all available options.

Conducting workplace risk assessments

While workplace regulations give detailed guidance on different aspects of workplaces, this may need to be adapted as necessary to suit the idiosyncrasies of older properties and listed buildings.

There is a wealth of case law that relates to older buildings and grounds that may be relevant to site risk management procedures for historic properties. The right measures must be taken to protect the health and safety of employees as well as any visitors, within the context of the historic building asset in question.

Providing a safe and engaging visitor experience

Finally, for heritage sites and historic buildings that are open to the public, the right balance must be struck between maintaining a keen sensitivity to the historic fabric and the provision of the highest levels of visitor safety.

Reducing risk and maximising visitor enjoyment should not be mutually exclusive goals, and the focus should be on implementing practical and sympathetic health and safety measures that ensure the visitor experience is as engaging as it possibly can be.

Safety & Health Expo 2022 announces seminar programme

The agenda for the hugely anticipated Safety & Health Expo, and its four co-located shows, is available now!

Highlights include:

  • Inspirational speakers Louis Theroux and Mandy Hickson
  • Case study of MIND's work in industry
  • The application of the definitive sentencing guideline
  • Hypnotherapy and workplace wellbeing
  • Handling and managing the immediate aftermath of a serious incident
  • Promoting safety across the supply chain
  • Driver safety & competence
Louis Theroux and Mandy Hickson

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Paul Burrows
Paul Burrows
2 months ago

Great article, but the legislation cited could do with a review.