House extensions: now a health and safety issue

People carrying out building work on their homes face a considerable hike in costs following a European court ruling which places rigorous health and safety rules on construction sites at private dwellings.

The European Court of Justice last week ruled that an Italian woman who was replacing the roof on her private house must employ a health and safety coordinator and draw up a detailed health and safety plan.

It is feared that similar restrictions will apply here. A spokeswoman for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Innovation said, "the case will require careful study with a view to considering its implications".

The controversial EU law on health and safety requires homeowners to comply with a long list of health and safety requirements for any renovation work or extensions being built on their house.

These include putting up rail guards, safety notices, working height restrictions and even hiring a health and safety coordinator.

The regulations cover simple renovation work, extensions and even painting and cleaning.

The onus is also on the homeowner to comply and they can face prosecution if they don't.

This will add considerably to the cost of even the smallest of extensions, possibly forcing homeowners to opt out altogether of building projects.

This would be a further blow to the already decimated construction sector where small contractors are now more reliant then ever on small domestic building projects to keep business going.

The practice whereby build­ers comb planning application notices and send off letters looking for building work to applicants is now commonplace.

The Irish government argues that the EU health and safety rules should only apply to work on private houses where it is in furtherance of a trade, such as a doctor building a surgery on the side of his house.

But the EU has told the government that it is not happy with this interpretation and wants it to apply to building works on all private houses.

The decision in Italy last week has now swung the initiative back towards Brussels and put renewed pressure on the government to comply with the EU health and safety laws.