Six months after the shake-up of CDM 2015 and with the transitional arrangements ending today (6 October), the HSE’s chief inspector of construction has told Construction Manager that the revised regulations are “bedding in well” and designers are “on a journey” to fulfilling their new responsibilities.
CDM 2015 abolished the standalone CDM coordinator in favour of new responsibilities for principal designers (PD) and principal contractors, with the new PD role reflecting an objective in the new regulations that designers should “own” any risk they create.
Peter Baker acknowledged that some smaller designers might be wary of the new contractual role but urged them “not to panic” and to “remember that proportionality is key”.
But his view contrasted with feedback from several health and safety practitioners, who report that many design firms are routinely side-stepping the principal designer role, even though the new regulations give them a legal liability for managing safety issues in the pre-construction stage.
Chris Chapman, head of CDM at Bristol-based consultancy Building Safety Group, said: “There’s a general reluctance on the part of architects and designers to take on the new PD role – they’re quite happy to do what they’ve always been doing.
“So there’s still a separation between design work and project coordination, where CDM 2015 was trying to make that one.”
"The message is ‘don’t panic’ – if you are a member of a professional body, then go to them for advice. If you’re already designing safely, CDM 2015 does not ask for much more, except good collaboration and good project management."
Peter Baker, HSE
Martin Emery, an associate heading up health and safety at multi-disciplinary consultant Ridge & Partners, also said that it was being appointed as health and safety subconsultant to designers that did not want to develop new areas of expertise, or hire suitable staff.
As Ridge is also being appointed to advise principal contractors and clients, the new regime was in fact creating additional opportunities for them to be appointed compared to the era of CDM-Cs under CDM 2007.
Alex Green, chief executive of online service handshq.com, agreed that “a lot of designers don’t realise what’s happened – previously, they could take an arms length approach to safety management, and now they’re taking the risk. A lot of them don’t realise they’re legally responsible, and their insurers and underwriters don’t understand the regulations themselves.”
Baker, formerly head of the HSE’s chemicals, explosives and microbiological hazards division, who took up his new post in April, acknoweldged that competence in the principal designer role was higher among larger design firms, but stressed that the HSE was working with the industry to foster take-up of the PD role among smaller firms.
He told Construction Manager: “If principal designers and designers create the risk, the regulations reflect the principle that those who create the risk should manage it. Some designers have woken to the fact that they have a responsibility to design safely and to manage the risks, because a high number of serious incidents on sites are down to inadequate design in the first place.
“But we’re sensible enough to realise not everything will be fine from day one. With new regulations, you need to prepare the ground and you can never get it exactly right. Some large [design] businesses have been living with this for some time, while smaller businesses may need to get used to it – that’s why we’re working with the RIBA, CIAT, the IstructE, ICE and CONIAC (Construction Industry Advisory Committee ) to really promulgate the objectives of CDM 2015. We’re also looking for good case study material of where it’s been done well.
“The message for designers is you’ve got to be proportionate – we wouldn’t expect a designer involved in a straightforward project to have the same capacity as the designers of HS2. The message is ‘don’t panic’ – if you are a member of a professional body, then go to them for advice. If you’re already designing safely, CDM 2015 does not ask for much more, except good collaboration and good project management.”
Baker said that small contractors taking on the principal contractor role had adapted to the new regulations, and were making good use of the CITB-produced smartphone app that helps them produce a construction phase plan.
Baker said that the HSE currently did not plan to produce an Approved Code of Practice for CDM 2015, believing that guidance document L153, published in April, plus industry-produced guidance, was sufficient and more responsive to changing circumstances than an ACOP.
However, it might reverse this position if the results of a recently-concluded industry consultation showed a high degree of industry support for a new ACOP. “If, over time, the industry can provide evidence that an ACOP will add value and aid compliance, then we’ll consider it,” he said. A report and recommendation based on the results of the consultation are due to go the HSE board later this year.