The CDM 2015 regulations provide guidance for architects and others involved in the design role of buildings.
In addition to those who directly prepare and modify construction project designs such as architects, other professionals affected by CDM 2015 laws may also arrange for or instruct others in how to do so. These could include:
- Consulting engineers
- Quantity surveyors
- Any professional who carries out design work, such as contractors and tradespeople (e.g., an electrician who designs the specification and layout of an electrical installation)
- Commercial clients who actively participate in the design of their project
UK architects who are reviewing the Construction Design and Management (CDM) 2015 regulations will notice the ‘reasonable practicability’ theme underlying them, which have been designed to try and make the laws practical to work with.
This approach can make it easy to forget that these duties are also subject to criminal law. It is therefore important for architects and others offering building design advice to be fully aware of their obligations under CDM 2015.
Duty to Avoid Harm
Designers such as architects play an important role in helping to ensure that the construction process avoids harm. This is because their influence begins during the early planning and design stages of a new construction project. Their decisions can affect the welfare of the following:
- Workers and contractors who perform the construction work
- Those who use, repair, clean, refurbish, and demolish a work site or building
Design decisions such as selecting building components or materials can control, reduce, and even avoid the risks inherent in building a structure and both using and maintaining it after it is built. These designer duties apply on all projects, including (but not limited to):
- Large construction projects
- Minor building workers
- Domestic projects
- Smaller projects involving repairs and refurbishment
Designer duties come into effect as soon as the design professional is appointed and designs intended for construction work begin. While the greater percentage of design work takes place during a project’s pre-construction phase, it sometimes extends into the actual construction process.
Knowledge, Skills, and Experience Needed by Designers
To ensure safety during a project, a designer must be able to demonstrate that they possess the following:
- Skills, knowledge, and experience (SKE) in the area of health and safety
- The organisational ability to do the work they have been appointed to do (if the designer is part of an organisation)
The degree of SKE required should be in proportion to the project complexity and the nature and range of potential risks.
Examples of SKE demonstration may include:
- Membership in professional bodies or institutions
- Records of adherence to continued professional development
Examples of organisational capability could include:
- Prequalification assessment by independent assessors who are members of recognised organisations such as Safety Schemes in Procurement Forum
- Self-assessment using the Publicly Available Specification PAS 91 health and safety pre-qualification questions
The Health and Safety Executive is in favour of a lower-key approach for smaller projects that involve less risk and a more detailed approach for complex projects. It also advocates that actions remain in proportion to potential risks.
This flexible approach to CDM legislation is intended to make it user-friendly, but from a legal perspective, this can subject everything to interpretation, especially since the 2015 regulations have not really been tested by case law.
A legal practicalities course called RIBA CDM 2015 uses the regulations (as opposed to third-party guidance notes) to explain the duties and responsibilities of those involved in the CDM process, including the key role of the Principal Designer.
The course developers believed that unofficial guidance was so prevalent that architects will find it beneficial to return to the source material, where it will be made obvious that the CDM regulations were structured to be practical instead of difficult to navigate.
They accepted that the absence of any flurry of legal action over CDM duty failures since the new regulations were introduced indicates that the Health and Safety Executive has struck the correct balance between practicality and prescription.
The central role of the Principal Designer is a central part of CDM 2015. They must be appointed on any project that has multiple contractors. The Principal Designer does not have to be appointed on projects for domestic clients, but their duties must still be carried out by the lead designer. The RIBA recommendation is that members discuss these duties with clients as a mandatory part of their architectural services and satisfy themselves that the client understands what they are doing.
One of the primary motivators behind the CDM changes was the desire of the Health and Safety Executive to see the Principal Designer selected from the design team. This approach replaces the former CDM Coordinator role, which often belonged to a third-party consultant who did not influence design decisions and their ramifications for health and safety.
Duties of the Principal Designer
The Principal Designer duties include:
- Planning, managing, and overseeing the preconstruction phase of a project. The client must provide Preconstruction Information and the Principal Designer is obligated to help the client provide it as well as evaluate its adequacy. They must also share Preconstruction Information with all contractors and other designers that have been appointed or are under consideration.
- The management and coordination of health and safety concerns and the sharing of such details wherever design work is being done. From this perspective, the Principal Designer is a supervisory role that ensures cooperation.
For the duration of their appointment, the principal designer is required by duty to work with the Principal Contractor and share key information regarding planning, management, and monitoring.
The Principal Designer must work within what is known as the ‘general principles of prevention’, but in proportion to the project scope. In others words, to an extent that is both reasonable and practicable.
If legal action arises from the project, documentation is essential. The Principal Designer must be in a position afterwards to prove why certain decisions were made and why they were the reasonable thing to do at the time.
Safer Sphere are able to advise on any aspect of CDM 2015.