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September 1, 2015

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The ‘skills, knowledge and experience’ required by a Principal Designer

By Tim Sims, Turner & Townsend

Under CDM 2007, duty-holders were obliged to make appointments to key roles on construction projects according to certain competence criteria. Following adverse comments during the consultation on CDM 2015, these criteria were dropped in the new Regulations in favour of a requirement for sufficient ‘skills, knowledge and experience’ on the part of those carrying out the role of principal designers and contractors.

The client must define within their procurement process, and prior to making any appointment, that the principal designer – be it an individual or an organisation – has the required skills, knowledge and experience necessary to undertake the role. And the individual or organisation in question must also be able to demonstrate same.

However, there is no specific guidance to help the duty-holder in determining whether or not their potential appointees fulfil these requirements, and one question in particular that is being asked is: what is the difference between ‘skills, knowledge and experience’ and ‘competence’?

The guidance to CDM 2015 (L153) refers to the following:

  • Self-assessment – PAS91 currently offers a framework of questions to determine the relevant skills, knowledge and experience. Although this has yet to be updated to reflect CDM 2015 requirements, it is a good basis on which to provide evidence of compliance with the main duties of the principal designer, which are to:
  • Assist the client in identifying, obtaining and collating the pre-construction information;
  • Provide pre-construction information to designers, the principal contractor, and contractors;
  • Ensure coordination and cooperation during the pre-construction phase;
  • Ensure all designers comply with their duties;
  • Liaise during the construction phase; and
  • Prepare the health and safety file.
  • Independent (third-party) assessors – some members of Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) have updated their assessments to reflect the new role of principal designer. PDs are now assessed on their main duties at both an organisational and individual level, and their qualifications and experience are checked in much the same way as they were under the previous system of competence assessment.

Core competencies for the role should be considered both in the client assessment and by the PD themselves, to demonstrate they have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience. To prove it is capable of carrying out the PD role, an organisation must be able to demonstrate:

  • Ability to develop a PD team and understand and address gaps in competence;
  • Effective and proactive stakeholder engagement, team-building and team-working skills;
  • Proactive knowledge-sharing and continuous improvement;
  • Access to suitable organisational expertise in health and safety and engineering;
  • Commitment to training and lifelong learning;
  • Management team has had health and safety training to understand CDM 2015; and
  • Processes for ensuring health and safety is planned and managed throughout the project.

An individual must have technical knowledge of the construction industry relevant to the project in the following domains:

  • Engineering and design:
    • Technical and relevant sector knowledge;
    • Ability to undertake multidisciplinary design reviews, including large, complex projects, where applicable;
    • Chartered membership of a relevant institution;
  • Health & Safety:
    • An understanding of how H&S is managed through the design process, as well as whole-life health and safety through design and construction;
    • Demonstrate knowledge and experience of construction health and safety risks;
    • Membership of a relevant institution.
  • CDM:
    • Good working knowledge and experience of CDM Regulations;
    • Demonstrate management and coordination skills required of a principal designer;
    • Confidence to challenge designs.

Given the wide application of the CDM Regulations 2015, many more projects now require a principal designer, and the role is being undertaken by new parties, including clients, architects, engineers, project managers and principal contractors.

Turner and Townsend are working with training provider ACT Associates to assist the construction industry in providing training to bridge the current ‘skills gap’.

Tim SimsTim Sims is associate director at Turner and Townsend

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8 years ago

The industry has been debating on the differences between ‘skills, knowledge and experience’ and ‘competence’ since the consultation process on CDM 2015 began, and I’ve heard strong arguments both in favour of and against the new approach. Although my initial view was the Regulations were being watered down, in practice I don’t believe that this will be the case. Moving away from prescriptive ‘competency’ as defined by CDM 2007 over to ‘skills, knowledge and experience’ under CDM 2015 seems to recognise the diversity of our industry and the wide range of CDM projects covered by the Regulations. CDM 2015 is… Read more »

Paul Donaldson
Paul Donaldson
8 years ago

Our discussion with the HSE on this lead us to believe that the minimum training that is required for the health and safety aspect of the role is Managing Safely.
We are currently working with architects companies to train their staff to this level in order to comply with the Regulations.

Vince Butler
Vince Butler
8 years ago

The remuneration being offered for the vast majority of CDM Principal Designer (PD) roles is disgusting, laughable and often frankly offensive. The lead role with the real legal statutory responsibility at pay rates often less then half that of ‘designers’ is really going to attract the very best people – The person in the ‘dock’ at court being paid 50% less than those without the duty – don’t think so! For any reasonable size or complexity of construction project, the absolute minimum H&S qualification for a PD to supplement design related degrees, practical knowledge, skills and relevant successful recent experiences… Read more »

Liz Bennett
Liz Bennett
8 years ago

There are many courses out there especially including those you can find on our website under courses and courses offered by the Institution of Civil Engineers. Make sure that 1) The Tutor has design experience and 2) thee course is about empowering you and not designed to frighten you into the belief you need expensive H&S consultancy support. H&S is much simpler than design – look at the length of study time and the added value in a global market. H&S says “Don’t hurt people or make them sick by the effects of what you do or decide others should… Read more »