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If you are looking to commission construction works, it is important that you consider your obligations under the work health and safety legislation (WHS legislation) in Queensland. One way you must manage these commitments is to appoint a principal contractor who is responsible for ensuring the health and safety of people on the construction site. If you fail to comply with your obligations under the WHS legislation, you could face penalties with harsh consequences for your business. This article explains: 

  • what a principal contractor is; 
  • when you need a principal contractor;
  • your other health and safety obligations; and
  • penalties for failing to comply with WHS legislation.

Queensland WHS Legislation in the Context of Australian Law

The relevant WHS legislation in Queensland is consistent with the corresponding federal law. It also aligns with the WHS legislation in:

  • New South Wales (NSW);
  • the Australian Capital Territory (ACT);
  • the Northern Territory (NT);
  • Tasmania; and
  • South Australia.

What is a Principal Contractor?

If you are commissioning a construction project in Queensland, you may need to appoint a principal contractor. This is a person who is authorised to:

  • have management or control of the workplace; and
  • completes the duties of a principal contractor under the WHS legislation.

This role was created under the WHS legislation to ensure that certain construction projects benefit from having a sole person responsible for the construction site’s:

  • work;
  • health; and
  • safety.

Importantly, you can only appoint one principal on a project at any time. For construction works that involve multiple trades working at different times, you would typically make the head builder your principal contractor. They would then be responsible for ensuring the work health and safety of all other workers on site, including:

  • tilers;
  • painters;
  • plumbers; and
  • electricians.

When Do I Need to Appoint a Principal Contractor?

In Queensland, you will need to appoint a principal contractor if the construction works are worth $250,000 or more. If you are commissioning the construction project, it is very important that you correctly appoint a principal. Otherwise, you will automatically be considered to be in this role, making you responsible for work health and safety on the construction site.

To appoint a principal contractor, you will need to:

  • engage another person as the principal for the project; and 
  • authorise that person to have management or control of the workplace and to discharge the duties of a principal contractor.

It is important that you have clear provisions drafted into your contract with the person who you intend to appoint. These should state that they: 

  • are the principal contractor; and
  • have your authorisation to manage all work health and safety matters on the construction site.

I’ve Appointed a Principal. What Are My Other Obligations?

Merely appointing a principal contractor is not enough to satisfy your legal obligations. As the person commissioning the construction work, you must carry out consultations with the designer to ensure that health and safety risks arising from the construction of their work are: 

  • eliminated as far as reasonably practicable; or
  • if it is not possible to eliminate the risks, minimised so far as reasonable.

This refers to any design work completed by an:

  • architect;
  • engineer; or
  • interior designer.

It will also be your responsibility to:

  • let the designer know about any hazards and risks on the site;
  • obtain a written report that specifies the hazards relating to the design if you have prepared the design yourself; and
  • provide the principal contractor with any information you have in relation to hazards and risks at the construction site.

What Happens If I Fail to Comply With My Obligations?

You could face a range of penalties under the WHS legislation in Queensland if you fail to comply with your obligations as the person commissioning construction work.

Even if you have appointed another person as the principal contractor, you could face the following penalties for these obligations:

Obligation Penalty (if you are an individual) Penalty (if you are a company)
Consulting with the designer of the works to ensure that risks are eliminated or mitigated. $1,632 $7,833
Obtaining a written report that specifies the hazards relating to the design, if you carried out the design works yourself. $1,632 $7,833
Giving the principal contractor any information in relation to hazards and risks. $1,632 $7,833

Importantly, failing to appoint a principal contractor will not inherently garner any penalties. Rather, you will become the default principal contractor, which imposes a range of obligations upon you to manage WHS matters. This means that you could face additional penalties to those outlined above. 

Key Takeaways

If you are commissioning construction works in Queensland with a value of over $250,000, you should appoint a principal contractor. This is best practice to minimise your legal obligations, otherwise you will be considered the default principal and charged with the responsibilities that some with this role. Regardless, you will still need to:

  • consult with your designer to ensure any risks are eliminated or mitigated;
  • prepare a written report in relation to the design risks if you prepared the designs yourself; and
  • provide all information that you hold in relation to risks and hazards to the principal.

If you have any questions, contact LegalVision’s construction lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.


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