CDM and the new Principal Designer role

Health and safety | March 2015

A fundamental change in the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, is the introduction of the Principal Designer role in place of the CDM Coordinator (CDM-C). Here we take a brief look at what these changes mean for the industry.

CDM Regulations LogoThe new CDM regulations, which come into force on 6 April 2015, make the new Principal Designer role responsible for planning, managing, monitoring and co-ordinating health and safety during the pre-construction phase of a project.

Integrating health and safety

When you consider the nature of the Principal Designer role, and when the appointment has to be made, the HSE’s intention is clear: health and safety must be integrated into the design stages of all construction projects much earlier than it has been in the past.

At System Concepts we see three issues that are crucial to the success of the Principal Designer role.

1. Time and resources

Some might argue that CDM-Cs were rarely given enough time or resources to fulfil their role as the 2007 regulations intended. For example, a CDM-C would find it extremely difficult to co-ordinate design work when their appointment came some time after the detailed design had been developed and construction was about to start.

The 2015 regulations require clients to appoint a Principal Designer ‘as soon as is practicable’, which effectively means at the start of a project. It remains to be seen how this will work in practice, but it is clear that the HSE wants the Principal Designer to be one of the first parties appointed to the project team. This should mean they have the necessary time and resources to be effective.

2. Authority to make decisions and influence design

Another criticism levelled at CDM-Cs is that they lacked the authority to make real decisions.  Viewed by some as a tick box appointment, their attendance and participation at design workshops and project meetings would often go unnoticed, lacking any real contribution or conviction.

building plan

That looks set to change. As the Principal Designer must be a designer on the project, they instantly have the design knowledge and credibility that some CDM-Cs lacked. The industry guidance states that the Principal Designer must be in a position to have control over the design and planning stage: their role is setup as a crucial part of the project team, with the authority and credibility to make decisions.  After all, a designer is more likely to be open to suggestions from a fellow architect than from a CDM-C.

3. Health and safety risk management

As well as overseeing the pre-construction phase, the Principal Designer must identify and eliminate, reduce or control risks that may arise during construction and during the future life of the building or structure. To do this, they must understand health and safety and be able to think not only with their design hat on, but with a health and safety hat on as well.

This is where some work needs to be done to bridge the gap left by the CDM-C. Many designers, by their own admission, are used to paying more attention to the aesthetics of their work rather than worrying about how people will access, use and maintain it. They may look to overcome this by involving someone with a construction safety background on their Principal Design team, with those CDM-Cs shunted aside by the HSE being the obvious choice.

Conclusion

The introduction of the Principal Designer role is one of the major changes to the regulations. And whilst there is clearly a gap to fill during the construction phase, giving pre-construction responsibilities to the Principal Designer should go a long way towards raising the profile of health and safety on construction projects.

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