Construction projects for schools are a good source of business but can be expensive and time-consuming if damages and delays occur. If you’re a contractor, pre-job planning is essential, as is the essential protection of builders’ insurance.
There are around 32,000 schools in the UK, and, as with any large building used by hundreds of people every day, ongoing maintenance and rebuilding are seemingly never-ending. A survey between 2017 and 2019 by the Department of Education (DfE) found that 7,158 schools in England – around one in three – had building issues that were ‘at serious risk of imminent failure’.
The DfE’s School Rebuilding Plan is an attempt to counter these failures. The 10-year plan was announced in 2020 and aims to rebuild up to 500 schools using £1 billion of funding.
So, there’s plenty of schools’ building work but it needs to be done not just profitably but safely. And working in a public building such as a school means work is often ongoing while pupils, staff and visitors are using the facilities. Builders’ insurance provides essential cover for injuries to members of the public and employees, and other protection such as damage to public property.
What should contractors do before school construction or maintenance?
Pre-build planning is essential to lessen the likelihood of insurance claims. A principal contractor on larger building projects such as a school must plan, manage, monitor, and coordinate health and safety during the construction phase of a project involving more than one contractor.
Under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) a construction phase plan is required before on-site work begins. This covers health and safety arrangements, site rules and specific measures to cover any risks. Gathering health and safety information about a school project allows for time and resources to be allocated before the project begins. The client, the design team, and contract documentation can be useful sources for this information.
The site can also be assessed at this stage so the access needs of pupils and staff can be gauged. Specific building issues such as contamination by asbestos, for instance, can also be discussed at this point. The school might have health and safety files from any previous construction on the site.
The job has more chance of completing efficiently and profitably if hazards are predicted, planned, and controlled from the start. Stopping or rescheduling work to deal with emergencies and other issues wastes time and money.
There are other factors to consider – such as the safety of the building materials used and ease of access to the site. And the onus isn’t just on the contractor – any school contracting construction work has a duty as a client under the CDM regulations to contribute to the health and safety of a project. After all, the school appoints the two key duty holders – the principal contractor and the principal designer.
Ultimately, a successful construction is a collaboration between client and contractor that ensures a profitable job and a fit-for-purpose, safe school environment.