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November 17, 2008

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CDM Coodinator and Sustainability

Paul Craddock and Barbara Marino argue that we need to recapture sustainability in construction from an exclusively ‘green’ agenda, and that the new role of CDM coordinator, with its attendant health and safety competence and responsibilities, is an excellent way of doing so.

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. So said the World Commission on Environment and Development, back in 1987. Note that the ‘green’ aspect is not implied, while the notions of continuing well-being and welfare most certainly are.

Safety and health professionals have always had an eye to the future, primarily on behalf of those to whom we have a duty of care but also to those affected by our and others’ actions. The most obvious way of discharging this obligation is to identify how the health and safety of those working on ‘our’ projects could be affected by the undertaking, and to set in place measures to protect their well-being.

For those working in construction, the development of new legislation, such as the CDM Regulations, has introduced practitioners to a more involved role, in which we are presented to our clients as able to deliver a wider remit of value-added services. We may now be asked about the logistics and/or programme for a project, and we should be able to answer with sensible advice — not necessarily generated exclusively by our own knowledge and expertise but by using our perception and intelligence to orchestrate and consolidate the knowledge and skills we have around us.

Many new items have, or are about to, come on to the agenda of any good client or project manager. One of these is the (construction) Site Waste Management Regulations, where practitioners, as much as anyone else, can advise on what should and should not be done. Practitioners are well placed to do so because we are already contributing to the exercise through our more direct responsibilities with respect to site welfare arrangements and construction-site fire prevention, as well as making sure that waste and refuse are not allowed to interfere with normal traffic, or emergency evacuation routes.

Health, safety and environment are now key requirements in tender and procurement documents and they are afforded a high priority during tender evaluation and selection. Health and safety is also always a section in corporate responsibility reports and sustainability guidance for major clients in the construction industry.

Sustainability and the CDM coordinator

The new role of CDM coordinator further allows practitioners to become involved with design teams and facilitate their thinking on how they can address carbon footprint and environmental issues, such as water and energy consumption during construction as well as later operation. Those who are trained in the BRE Environmental Assessment Method can assist peer reviews of the design against building energy consumption targets.

In line with sustainability objectives, the CDM community has always advocated health and safety as a way of adding value to projects and for clients. This can be achieved while facilitating an integrated design and applying a holistic approach to design, buildability and maintenance, ensuring the inclusion and coordination of health and safety considerations with all the other elements that concur to the successful completion of a construction project. Such an approach also requires the promotion and support of new construction/maintenance/operation techniques that are feasible and buildable in compliance with health and safety objectives. But can we really say that a building that complies with these objectives is not sustainable at the same time?

The CDM coordinator has the unique opportunity to be involved right from the set-up of the project team. They can therefore contribute not only to the setting of health and safety objectives (that are the basis of what will effectively become the CDM/health and safety strategy for the job) but also to establishing the very first principles of the sustainable development aspects of the project.

The involvement of the CDM coordinator in practical sustainability issues at this point generally concerns site waste management plans, site welfare, operability (when designing a workplace) and maintenance (especially when cleaning is involved). He or she may not always have direct influence over these (apart from assessing their health and safety implications) but should be contributing, and be made aware of the other impacts of using such solutions. Well-being of the final users of the structure, occupational health, pollution and waste are also addressed at different project stages, from concept design to assessment of construction-phase plans to the preparation of health and safety files.

More refined sustainability issues in which the CDM coordinator can be involved include: new design solutions that are more “environmentally friendly”, i.e. sustainable materials, biodiversity solutions, ‘green’ roofs, etc; better engagement with future users; comfort and security by design; remediation techniques as opposed to simple waste disposal; recycling of demolition materials; selection of low-vibration and low-noise equipment; etc.

But what is the future of this more “sustainable” CDM coordinator? Will this trend require them to “go green”? Must they become sustainability experts? The answer is a categorical no! The CDM coordinator is not a sustainability expert but sustainability should be a part of his/her competencies. There is the appetite for an adequate general (and not generic) awareness of sustainability issues and how these are impacting on our construction projects.

If the CDM coordinator is one of the key client’s advisors on a construction/building project then the interest and confidence towards sustainability can only increase his/her visibility and influence within the project team, and therefore ensure the success of the establishment and implementation of health and safety objectives.


Whatever we do today will affect the future in one way or another and there is an obligation on us to understand and manage these consequences. We in the health and safety community have a clear advantage over others, inasmuch as our whole professional careers have been based upon managing outcomes by devising and implementing appropriately perceptive strategies.

Our mindset — the way we think — is the single most important key to unlocking a sustainable future. We should not be afraid of promoting this unique ability.

Paul Craddock is an associate director, and Barbara Marino an associate with Arup Project Management.


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