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Written by
on 08 February 2021

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In 2015, the Construction Design and Management Regulations (CDM) were updated to simplify this vital legislation and make responsibilities within construction projects crystal clear. The new CDM regulations, introduced in April, superseded the 2007 version of the guidelines and became the primary legislation.

One of the main changes to CDM regulations in this update was implementing the Principal Designer role. The idea behind this new role was to bring planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating forward into the design phase to ensure proper health and safety throughout the project.

However, despite the new regulations in place for five years, some are still unsure what the Principal Designer role encompasses when necessary and who should be appointed.

What is a Principal Designer?

Essentially, a Principal Designer is a person or organisation appointed by a client to assume responsibility for planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating health and safety during the design and planning phase of a construction project.

Under CDM 2015, any domestic or commercial project with more than one contractor must have a Principal Designer involved. The official definition of this role 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 duties of a Principal Designer, according to the 2015 update, were designed to mirror those of the existing Principal Contractor role, before construction starts. However, the responsibilities of this role do not end once construction starts.

Principal Designers are required to have a comprehensive understanding of the work being undertaken and the pre-construction and design phases to ensure they can fully manage and coordinate the project.

Notably, CDM coordinator’s role was removed under the 2015 guidelines and succeeded by the Principal Designer role. All projects with more than one contractor were required to have a Principal Designer rather than a CDM Coordinator post-2015.

Is a Principal Designer always required?

For projects where there is more than one contractor employed, it is a legal requirement to appoint a Principal Designer. A Principal Designer should be appointed as early on in the project as possible, as they will be responsible for health and safety during planning.

Though guidelines state a Principal Designer is only required if there is more than one contractor, you should be aware that if your contractor uses sub-contractors – such as tradesmen – it becomes a multi-contractor project. In this situation, not assigning a Principal Designer would be against the law. This is why it is vital to identify early on if more than one contractor will be employed, and if a Principal Designer is needed.

A Principal Designer is a legal requirement on both domestic and commercial projects, even if the project is non-notifiable (under 30 days or 500 person-days), not just large commercial projects. It is important to note that if a client does not appoint a Principal Designer on commercial projects, they then assume the role automatically and become responsible for all duties.

According to the HSE: ‘the duration of a principal designer’s appointment should take into account any design work which may continue into the construction phase or any issues that may arise during construction involving the need to make suitable modifications to the designs,’ and that the role should remain in place for as long as it is needed. If the appointment finishes before the end of the project, the Principal Contractor must be briefed on all matters arising from their designs relevant to the planned construction work.

Who should be the Principal Designer?

The Principal Designer should be assigned from a role designated as a ‘designer’ within the CDM Regulations. Designers are defined as anyone who specifies and alters designs as part of their work, such as:

  • Architects
  • Consulting engineers
  • Quantity surveyors

Other possible designers, including contractors or tradespeople, such as electricians, who might design or modify layouts and installations, and even commercial clients themselves if they become actively involved in design related to their subject.

From the candidates that fit the definition of designer, the Principal Designer should be selected only if they can demonstrate they have the ‘health and safety skills, knowledge, and experience’ required or, if an organisation, the ‘organisational capability’ to carry out the role.

What are the responsibilities of a Principal Designer?

The Principal Designer’s responsibilities can be broken down into four areas: planning and coordination, management, communication, and risk prevention/elimination.

The Principal Designer must:

  • Plan, manage, monitor and coordinate health and safety in the construction phase. They should take account of all relevant information which may impact design work.
  • Help and advise client by coordinating pre-construction information and providing it to designers and contractors.
  • Work with other designers on the project to eliminate, reduce, or mitigate health and safety risks during work.
  • Ensure and support communication between all those involved in pre-construction.
  • Liaise with the Principal Contractor and keep them informed of any potential risks which may require control during the construction phase. This is even more vital if the Principal Designer’s assignment will end before the construction phase.

How can Veritas Consulting help?

Thanks to our years of CDM experience, we can offer a range of CDM consultancy and support services, including Principal Designer support. Our fully accredited and registered CDM experts allow you to meet all legal obligations under CDM and feel safe in the knowledge that you have an expert on hand.

As a member of the Association for Project Safety, Veritas Consulting can provide a CDM Adviser with a wealth of experience working to HSE guidelines across various projects including new build, demolition, housing and more. We can take care of all health and safety aspects of the design process, meaning you can be confident you are meeting your Principal Designer responsibilities under CDM.

For more information about our Principal Designer support services or our CDM Adviser services, please call 0800 1488 677 or use the contact form above.

A chartered 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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