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20 Feb 2024

Obligation to ensure proper supervision of building work


Section 12(b) of the Building Work Contractors Act 1995 (SA) (the Act) provides that a licensed building work contractor must ensure that building work of any kind performed under the contractor’s licence is properly supervised by a registered building work supervisor.

Failure by a building work contractor to ensure proper supervision of building work may result in cancellation or suspension of the contractor’s licence, conditions being imposed on the licence or disciplinary action.

What is "proper supervision"?

Two builders overlooking the construction of a house

“Properly supervising” building work means that a supervisor should at least undertake:

  • frequent inspections of the building works and be present when all major structural events occur; and
  • appropriate checks during the course of construction to ensure that construction occurs in accordance with the building plans.

The standard required to meet the proper supervision obligation does not vary for building work of differing value. That is, low-cost building work requires the same standard as higher cost building work.

The courts have acknowledged that the duty has limits, noting that it would not extend to the supervisor being required to:

  • be present to observe very minor matters that would require hourly or even daily supervision; or
  • have a continuing presence at every stage of the work.

Supervisor requirements

A businessman wearing a hardhat pointing to some instructions on a white board

Where the building work is unable to be observed once completed (e.g. footings) or where one contractor is required to follow another (e.g. plastering work following masonry work), the supervisor is required to:

  • supervise the principal parts of the building work before they are concealed from view;
  • ascertain (either by personal inspection or through an assistant) whether the work has been done according to specification; and
  • otherwise make reasonable arrangements of a reliable nature to be kept informed of the general progress of the work and to be notified of the readiness of form work.

What is not "proper supervision"?

A builder asleep in front of a construction site

It will not be sufficient for the supervisor to:

  • make occasional visits to the site, and have fixed any parts of the building work that the building work supervisor happened to observe on such visits;
  • allow building works to be concealed before the supervisor has had the opportunity to check the work;
  • wait for handover to occur and subsequently identify issues with the building work;
  • assume from past satisfactory performances by the workmen that the supervisor would be notified of the readiness of the work for inspection; or
  • supervise only the work that can be seen on the particular days that the supervisor routinely conducts inspections.

This article provides general comments only. It does not purport to be legal advice. Before acting on the basis of any material contained in this article, we recommend that you seek professional advice.


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