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Written by
on 05 August 2020


In 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) were updated, simplifying the existing structure of the regulations, and applying new responsibilities across all aspects of construction. This included architects and designers, who were required to make safety considerations part of their designs. The 2015 regulations also created the role of ‘principal designer’.

After the 2015 CDM Regulations were introduced, architects and designers were no longer required to simply make a building beautiful, but safe also. This was a new challenge for many, and many years later there are some designers who are unsure of the breadth of their responsibilities under CDM.

What is CDM?

CDM applies to every construction project. Though CDM has been around since the mid-nineties, the 2015 update implemented a host of new responsibilities and considerations for those involved in a project.

Everyone working on a project should at least be aware of CDM and its general effects. CDM should be consciously applied by those named as key duty holders before, during, and after a project. If you are an architect or designer, your responsibilities will usually come in the initial design phases of the project, but they will last for the lifetime of the building or site.

A ‘project’ is generally defined as a scenario which will include construction work and covers all planning, design, management, or other work considered until construction is complete.

The CDM regulations identify five ‘key duty holders’ who are required to implement CDM in their aspect of the project. These CDM key duty holders are:

  • Principal Designer
  • Principal Contractor
  • Client
  • Contractors
  • Designers

Each of these duty holders has CDM responsibilities which they are legally required to meet to ensure the smooth, safe running of a project. These duties vary depending on the role.

Responsibilities of architect and designers under CDM

One of the biggest changes implemented to CDM in the 2015 Regulations was the expansion of the health and safety role of architects and designers. It now requires architects to consider the health and safety impact of their designs whilst planning, rather than health and safety measures only being implemented after the project is underway.

Under CDM 2015, each project with more than one contractor must have a ‘Principal Designer’ role. The HSE Principal Designer definition states: ‘A principal designer is a designer who is an organisation or individual (on smaller projects) appointed by the client to take control of the pre-construction phase of any project involving more than one contractor.’

The Principal Designer has a responsibility to:

  • Plan, manage, monitor and coordinate the pre-construction phase health and safety. This means taking account of relevant information which may affect design work
  • Help and advise the client in coordination pre-construction information, and provide necessary information to designers and contractors
  • Work with project designers on the project to eliminate, reduce, or mitigate health and safety risks during the work
  • Ensure communication between everyone involved in the pre-construction phase
  • Liaise with the principal contractor and keep them informed of risks which will need to be controlled during the construction phase

One very important thing to note is that according to the HSE: ‘on a domestic client project where the domestic client does not appoint a principal designer, the role of the principal designer must be carried out by the designer in control of the pre-construction phase.

Outside of the Principal Designer role, designers, in general, have responsibilities under CDM. The term ‘designer’ under CDM covers not just architects, but a host of roles, such as:

  • Consulting engineers
  • Quantity surveyors
  • Interior designers
  • Anyone who specifies and alters designs

According to the CDM Regulations, the term can even include principal contractors, specialist contractors, tradespeople, and even commercial clients, ‘if they get actively involved in design work’ for the project.

Many of the responsibilities of designers are the same as those of the Principal Designer. However, some are specific to the role of the designer. Such as:

  • Making the client aware of their duties under CDM 2015 before work commences
  • When preparing/modifying designs:
    • Taking into account pre-construction information provided by the client and principal designer
    • Eliminating foreseeable health and safety risks to anyone affected by the project and, as far as practicable, reduce or control risks which cannot be eliminated
  • Providing design information to:
    • The Principal Designer (if involved) for pre-construction information and health and safety
    • The client and Principal Contractor, or the contractor for single contractor projects, for them to comply with their duties, such as construction phase plans
  • Communicating, cooperating and coordinating with all other designers to ensure designs are compatible, as well as contractors to take account of their knowledge

Many of the responsibilities required of designers under CDM 2015 can be met simply by ensuring good organisation and communication. Keep comprehensive records of important documents and regularly communicate with others involved in the project. Often, effective communication is the difference between an incident occurring and the project progressing smoothly. Preventing the former is one of the main aims of CDM regulations.

The other main priority is ensuring your designs accommodate those who will be affected by them, both during and post-completion of the project. Project designers have an incredible amount of responsibility as, eventually, it will be their design which remains in place once the work is completed. It needs to be shown that all efforts were made to ensure those designs were properly considered in terms of health and safety to prevent future accidents.

What happens if a designer does not take their CDM responsibilities seriously?

If a designer fails to adhere to their CDM responsibilities, it is entirely possible an HSE inspection could lead to the project being shut down. Health and Safety Executives can wield extensive powers if they suspect a project is unsafe.

In the worst-case scenario, a design produced out of line with CDM regulations could cause an accident, either during work or after work is completed, due to a failure to consider health and safety. This can lead to injury, or worse, and be costly in time, money, and reputation. Contractors and clients will be hesitant to work with designers who are known to flout these guidelines in future.

There are multiple examples of designers being fined after an investigation found CDM regulations were not followed, such as companies failing to pass on vital safety information or not taking safety into consideration with their designs.

Knowing, understanding, and making an effort to adhere to CDM guidelines can save designers stress, worry, and money.

How can Veritas Consulting help?

We know that Health and Safety guidelines can be daunting, and sometimes overwhelming, especially when you have a million other things to focus on. At Veritas, we offer support and solutions geared towards designers that make CDM regulations simple, easy to digest, and relevant.

Our CDM solutions for designers ensure you’re made aware of all areas of CDM 2015 that affect you, as well as how you can meet your obligations. We’re not the health and safety police. We strive to make it so everyone can go to work and come home safely, and our CDM solutions are part of that.

To find out more, call us on 0800 1488 677, or get in touch via the contact form above.

A chartered (fellow) safety and risk management practitioner with 20+ years of experience. David provides a healthy dose of how-to articles, advice and guidance to make compliance easier for construction professionals, Architects and the built environment. Get social with David on Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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