In the event of injury or death on a construction site, who is responsible?

Under Workplace Health & Safety Laws are you or the Principal Contractor responsible?

The Workplace Health and Safety Act 1995 (Qld) places significant obligations on “principal contractors” to ensure the safety of persons on a construction site.

In the event of death on the construction site caused by the failure of principal contractor’s to comply with its WH&S obligations and construction site deaths are caused, the principal contractor and its executive officers (executive officers may include directors and senior management) are liable for fines of up to $2 million and three years jail.

QuestionWho is the Principal Contractor under the WH&S Act?

AnswerCommon sense would suggest that the principal contractor is the builder you commissioned to do the work. However, that isn’t necessarily the case. As absurd as it might sound, you might be the principal contractor!

 The builder you appoint to undertake the construction work will usually be automatically treated as the principal contractor provided the construction work:

(a) does not involve demolition works or the removal of friable asbestos containing material; or

(b) is for the construction of a detached or semi-detached residential dwelling; or

(c) is estimated to cost less than $80,000.00.

This means that for all demolition work and asbestos handling work and all non-residential construction work over $80,000 the builder you appoint to do the work will not automatically be treated as the principal contractor under the WH&S Act.

Instead it is your responsibility to formally appoint your builder as the principal contractor.

You appoint a principal contractor by completing and submitting to the builder and your local WH&S Office before the construction work begins a Form 32a Notice of Appointment of Principal Contractor.


If you do not properly appoint a principal contractor, the person who commissioned the construction work (i.e. you), is taken to be principal contractor!

This means you and your executive officers will (unwittingly) assume the obligations of a principal contractor under the WH&S Act and the criminal and civil consequences that will arise in the event of injury or death on the construction site.

If you are about to start a building project at your site please talk to Corney & Lind about what you need to do to appoint a principal contractor.  Even if you properly appoint a principal contractor, there are still some WH&S obligations that you are required to comply with.

Talk to us about those obligations.  We can also advise you on some special conditions to insert into your building contract that will provide an added layer of protection in relation to WH&S obligations on the construction site.


Are you considering appointing a project manager but not a principal contractor for your next project?

It is not uncommon to appoint only a project manager and not a principal contractor (In such a scenario, your project manager on your behalf directly appoints all the individual tradespeople and suppliers for the project rather than the principal contractor sub-contracting the work).

Talk to Corney and Lind before you take this course of action as you may be assuming not only the WH&S obligations of a principal contractor but also liability for other common law claims.

What next? Contact one of our Business Development Officers today …


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