Under domestic law (the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974) employers are responsible for ensuring the safety of their employees and others. This responsibility is reinforced by regulations.

The Work in Compressed Air Regulations 1996 provide a framework for the management of health and safety risks by those undertaking tunnelling and other construction work in compressed air. They address such issues as:

  • notification of the work to HSE
  • safe systems of work;
  • competent persons to undertake various defined roles;
  • provision of plant and equipment;
  • health surveillance;
  • compression and decompression procedures (including HSE approval of procedures);
  • medical treatment;
  • emergency procedures;
  • fire precautions;
  • provision of information, instruction and training; and,
  • maintenance of health and exposure records.

Many of the duties are placed on compressed air contractors. This reflects the practical operation of the industry and recognises the fact that the contractor in charge of the compressed air operations is best placed to manage and control the health and safety risks of such work. The regulations require the appointment of a Contract Medical Adviser to provide occupational health advice on all aspects of the work in compressed air. A requirement for oxygen breathing during decompression was introduced in 2001.

Because of the number of people required to carry out and manage the work the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 apply to compressed air projects. For most, but not necessarily all, projects the compressed air contractor will be the principal contractor under these Regulations. Additional requirements relating to emergencies, fire precautions and welfare are set out in the Work in Compressed Air Regulations because of the particular risks and conditions involved.

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Updated 2021-08-04