Proposed changes to the rules that govern firms working in the single European market could cause chaos for British construction companies

The warning was given by the Construction Industry Council, which was giving evidence to the House of Lords’ inquiry into a proposed directive on “services in the internal market”.

The CIC said the directive would compromise health and safety on site and create confusion over contractual obligations.

The directive would allow companies working within the EU to remain subject to the laws of their own country, not the one where they are working.

This “country of origin” principle is aimed at freeing the movement of services between EU countries, but the CIC says it would cause problems where firms from different countries work together on a project.

It could be chaotic if workers on a site were allowed to follow different safety rules

Gillian Birkby, CIC liability panel

Gillian Birkby, a solicitor and a member of the CIC’s liability panel, said: “Exceptions to the country of origin principle do not go far enough, and could have a seriously damaging effect on the UK’s construction industry standards. For example, it could be chaotic if workers on a construction site were allowed to follow different safety rules.”

The CIC told the committee that the directive would also cause problems over safety in design, as the codes followed by a designer affect other areas of a project, such as cost and environmental impact. There may also be problems if buildings needed to satisfy requirements such as the UK’s Disability Discrimination Act, as that provisions may not be statutory in the architect’s country of origin.

A further concern is over the liabilities. A CIC spokesperson said: “Although consultants may be jointly liable to the client, some of them may have significant caps on their liability.”