Freelance Tech Writer for SHP and IFSEC Insider

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A tech writer specialising in cybersecurity, working with Redscan on this and a number of other GDPR, MDR, and ethical hacking projects.
November 3, 2022

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The growing importance of Principal Designers in construction

In this article, Dakota Murphey examines the role of a Principal Designer and explains why they are integral to the construction industry and influencing health and safety on site through design…

As any construction team will know, builds come with a variety of complex tasks and involve numerous individuals in order to complete them on time and budget. Collaboration is at the heart of any construction project, and a Principal Designer remains one of the most crucial roles in the process.

In 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations came into effect, and one of the primary changes was replacing CDM Coordinators with Principal Designers. But despite several years since those changes, it’s still not entirely clear to many people just how crucial this role is in the industry and the benefits that a Principal Designer can offer businesses.

What is a Principal Designer?

Principal Designers (PDs) are an essential part of any project team in the construction industry, and it can be an individual or an organisation, depending on the demands of the project. They are on hand to guide the project and oversee the designs with the goal of minimising health and safety risks, which are essential to the success of any construction project.
Since the Grenfell disaster in 2017, the industry has been forced to rethink its processes and systems, and having PDs on-site can really help to alleviate safety risks and hazards. These include advising the client of their duties with the creation of the CDM brief to managing health and safety risks, ensuring other designers comply with their duties and liaising with the Principal Contractor to keep them informed of risks. The Principal Designer takes on a multitude of tasks that contribute towards a safer construction environment.

How can a Principal Designer add value to a project?

A Principal Designer supports your team with the pre-construction phase of the project, producing valuable information that will really come in useful later on in the build. PDs are responsible for managing this phase of a project, but they’ll also enter at later stages on the start date of the build. The PD works closely with the whole team throughout the pre-construction process to ensure that any legal duties are handled efficiently and that any compliance issues are dealt with. Part of this is essential health and safety risks that could be overlooked if a PD is appointed too late in the process, and could impact budget and timelines.

The appointed PD is an integral part of the professional team and is there to ensure there’s a smoother collaboration between the primary team and third parties. They’ll be there to ensure that information is flowing smoothly which can directly influence the earlier stages of health and safety protocol. The Principal Design team at Universal Safety Practitioners believe that “well run and safe projects need to be thoroughly designed and well planned from the design phase, and proactively managed during the construction phase. Working closely with a range of architects, designers and engineers during the pre-construction phase of projects is the key to the planning, management and monitoring of this vitally important phase”.

Ultimately, at the core of Principal Design work is the need to reduce health and safety risks in the project. Not only does this ensure that CDM legislation will be adhered to but that the project is carefully considered and every detail, no matter how minor, has been thought through to combat any future issues that may arise. These proactive steps support design risk management for a safer project, no matter the size or complexity.

The importance of prevention

Eliminating risks by preventing them in the first place is essential in the construction industry. It reduces harm and prevents costly repairs and changes to the build at a later stage. Firstly, PDs need to identify risks and eliminate them where possible, reducing the risk in instances where they can’t be eliminated completely. Within the industry, it’s not just clients and the general public that need to be kept safe, but also workers. Last year alone, over 76,000 staff in the construction sector suffered work-related illnesses or injuries, so preventing issues throughout the process can keep workers safe too. While this is far from a new concept, it is something that PDs can help to influence and ensure that the issue remains a focus throughout the project.

When should a client appoint a Principal Designer?

CDM regulations apply to all building works of any size, whether domestic or non-domestic, so a client is required to appoint a Principal Designer and a Principal Contractor to work through the project. If the client doesn’t appoint either of these roles on a commercial project, they take on the responsibilities of both roles to ensure that project leaders are fully engaged in the whole process and that the design team factors in all essential elements. But naturally, this poses its own set of risks, because without the necessary experience and qualifications, certain risks may be overlooked.

Under the regulations, these roles need to be appointed as soon as the design works begin, but in so many projects, the roles are picked up far too late in the process. This can result in costly changes to the designs and affect timelines in order to ensure the build adheres to the necessary safety standards. It can be tough for clients to balance so having a PD confirmed as soon as possible makes all the difference.

A Principal Designer has immense influence over the way that health and safety risks are controlled on a construction site and how controls are incorporated into a project to keep people safe for the future. The pre-construction phase is so integral to the monitoring of the project and ensuring that prevention remains a focus to minimise harm as much as possible.

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1 year ago

What is the qualifications for a Principal designer? Having Designer in the title would suggest that a PD should have some Design qualifications? But i have never seen a formal PD training course. I have seen companies who may be more CDM biased but their staff are not designers, they have Nebosh Construction certificate, so who guards the guards, who says who is competent? Surely if you are doing anything with design, you need that competence? Surveyors and architects study for many years yet a PD can do a 2 week course and maybe a 2 day bolt on? That… Read more »