Author Bio ▼

Dr Nick Bell is a Chartered Fellow of IOSH and a Fellow of the International Institute of Risk and Safety Management.Nick supports Principal Designers and construction Clients to comply with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM). He delivers accredited CDM training and has been advising on construction projects up to £3.2bn in value..In October 2018 Nick successfully defended his PhD thesis in which he examined the association between worker engagement and behaviour.  His work has attracted interest from across the globe.  He is now Managing Director of Workfulness Ltd and continues his CDM-related work.
March 16, 2015

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Who can be a principal designer?

The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) make the role of CDM co-ordinator obsolete and introduce the principal designer (PD).

The associated, draft guidance (L153) offers no scenarios describing who might be PD under different procurement models nor the skills, knowledge, experience and organisational capability that they require. This ambiguous vacuum is being filled with speculation.

It is helpful to review what we definitely know. A PD must be appointed by the client if there is, or is likely to be, more than one contractor on a project. We appoint a decorator to spruce up a room (redecoration = construction so CDM applies) and they sub-contract work to an electrician: that is two contractors so someone needs to be PD.

Regulation 2 of CDM 2015 explains that the PD is the designer appointed to fulfil certain other Regulations (discussed later). So, who’s a designer? This is a person (an individual or organisation) who prepares or modifies drawings, specifications etc. (i.e. designs) relating to a structure. They can also be a person who arranges for or instructs any person under their control to prepare or modify a design, which is much broader in scope.

What does a PD do? Fundamentally, they “plan, manage and monitor the pre-construction phase and co-ordinate matters relating to health and safety during the pre-construction phase” (Regulation 11). L153 offers additional insights into HSE’s thinking. PD have “control over the pre-construction phase of the project”, essentially the design stage, and have the “technical knowledge of the construction industry relevant to the project” and “the understanding and skills to manage and co-ordinate the pre-construction phase.”

Two distinct functions are emerging: the PD controls the design process and they co-ordinate health and safety matters relating to design. The PD appears to be envisaged as a design-based role.

Let’s return to the subject of who is a designer and, by extension, who can be a PD.

  • Do you prepare or modify designs? A client specifies all the finishes for simple redecorations of a modern building. Design co-ordination is a doddle, and the structure and designs may present no significant, unusual risks. Assuming there will be more than one contractor, the client could be PD. For more complex projects I suggest they appoint people with specific skills, knowledge etc. Clients will still be PD if these duties are being fulfilled by an internal design team.
  • Do you instruct or arrange for others to prepare or modify designs? When a client asks an architect or engineer to prepare designs the client becomes a designer, so could be the PD. That’s usually not a good idea: You must have, or must appoint dutyholders who possess the ability to fulfil these roles (Regulation 8). As we have seen, a would-be PD must control, i.e. plan, manage and monitor the design phase and co-ordinate health and safety matters during design. Design managers of design and build firms, construction managers and some surveyors (depending on their scope) have little or no detailed design input on a project but get other designers to develop designs and work together. They’d make great PD.

With this in mind, I have developed ten questions for a prospective PD.

Do you have the technical knowledge, skills and understanding regarding the;

  1. Design process? E.g. which disciplines you require, what information designers need, which designs are contingent on which other designs.
  2. Elements of the structure and how they fit and work together? This requires a basic understanding of the design disciplines (and their technical jargon).
  3. Activities, construction sequences and information needed to build, adapt, maintain and operate the structure? This allows the PD to compile and assess the adequacy of pre-construction information and health and safety files.
  4. Interpretation and clarification of Client briefs, including their arrangements for managing the project? Some Clients may ask the PD to help develop this.
  5. Suitable knowledge and application of a range of health and safety legislation?
  6. Ability to read technical drawings and spot poor design interfaces?
  7. Use of software packages (and BIM) to interrogate and mark up drawings?
  8. Designers’ explanations of the risks created by their designs, and the adequacy of proposed controls?
  9. Intelligent questioning (perhaps coaching) and co-ordination of designers, including chairing design team meetings and recognising the roles, skills and limitations of designers?
  10. Effective ongoing liaison with a principal contractor?

Because they already plan, manage and monitor (i.e. control) the design phase, lead designers (e.g. architects, engineers and surveyors) should be PD but may not have all these qualities. CDM co-ordinators who are not designers (myself included) lack the technical skills to control design work.

Perhaps one solution is PD = lead designer + ex-CDM-C support?

Until the HSE put their heads above the parapets, speculation will continue.

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John Tremelling
John Tremelling
8 years ago

Being very long in the tooth my experience is that many so called ‘Principal Designers’ will come out of the woodwork stating that
they competent and informed.

malc lucas
malc lucas
8 years ago

The way I interpret these regs, it looks as though the norm of 30 work days etc prior to requiring CDM is no longer applicable – does this mean we need to employ these regs just to change a door or redecorate?
I find that part very open to interpretation – any one any thoughts on this?
malc

Daljit Sharma
Daljit Sharma
8 years ago
Reply to  malc lucas

Malc. As you are aware that various parts of the CDM 2007 regs apply to all construction work as defined under the current regs and will continue to be the same under CDM 2015. The changing of the door and decorating is classed as construction, however, the changing of a door would not take 30 days to complete thus it will not be notifiable construction work under the current CDM regs, and hence, you would not be required to appoint a CDMc and a Principal Contractor regardless of a number of contractors you employ to complete the door change. But… Read more »

Rob Slater
Rob Slater
8 years ago

I too have read the new regs and have puzzled over eligibility to carry out the role. What especially puzzles me is how recruitment agencies can advertise for PD’s – the PD must be a designer on the specific project. Not just ‘a designer’, he must be appointed by the Client to oversee design etc on that project.

Jim Sweet
Jim Sweet
8 years ago

As always Nick very informative.

Peter Gibson
Peter Gibson
8 years ago

curiously we are updating our CHAS atthe moment and they have asked if we as CMC,s do we want to register as a Principal Designer instead. We need clarification on this subject.

Jennifer Hannon
Jennifer Hannon
8 years ago

I think you need to remove your blinkers, it is very clear to me as it is to the HSE who have produced webinars etc. The only people I see who have a problem is some of the current CDM-C’s.

It all makes perfect sense to me

Daljit
Daljit
8 years ago

Can ex or current CDMcs who define/specify safe methods of work to implement the architect/structural engineer’s design be considered for a PD’s job. I normally do have a lot of in put to coordinate their designs and correct the design risk analysis.

Brian Preston
Brian Preston
8 years ago

A designer skilled in H & S – a rare animal indeed! The theory is fine but it leaves much to be desired in practice.
It seems that the HSE have strayed into the realm of the impractical – and there is still no post for an independent view of H & S actually on-site.

Les Hill
Les Hill
8 years ago

Good scenario, lots of minor jobs would appear to be liable to get caught up in this.

HSE requirements for a PD will be of great interest, and will they reflect the very widely varying complexity of contracts???
– I for one will watch this space with interest, particularly on the question of proportionality.

Tara Fry
Tara Fry
8 years ago

Refer to Reg 34 of the new guidance, the client has a duty to consider the appointment of an in-house or independent health and safety consultant where a project is large and complex. The more responsible clients will value an independent view especially where for example the Principal Contractor is also the Principal Designer on a D&B project. It would be a very brave client to leave both of these roles in the hands of one party without independent monitoring. Large and complex is interesting as a description of when to appoint independent advice, what about small and complex!! Is… Read more »

Gary Edwards
Gary Edwards
8 years ago

Hi, I work for a company that restore fire and flood damaged homes on the behalf of insurance companies whom are working on behalf of the PH (property holder) My company have a team of 6 project managers, 30 trades men/women and 2 nebosh General trained H&S Supervisors. let’s say the insurance company give us a water damaged house to restore, the procedure at the moment means, a project manager would receive a scope of works (following a meeting on site between project manager and a member of the insurance company). The project manager would then, source the materials, control… Read more »

David Harding
David Harding
8 years ago

Quite agree PD = lead designer + ex-CDM-C support? Gives the full solution to an integrated collectively responsible oganisational team

Andrew Sharp
Andrew Sharp
8 years ago

Interested if anyone can comment on whether a PD should be an individual or an organisation. We look after 300 separate designs every year with around £4m design fee and 40 designers. Current thinking is to appoint one individual as PD for all this, but reading between the lines of the Regs leads me to think the organisation should be the PD, not an individual. Can an individual effectively undertake the PD role for his scope of work?

Graham Skeer
Graham Skeer
8 years ago

Dear Nick, I totally concur with your article on who can become a Principle Designer. I currently carry out this activity after becoming a redundant CDM-Co. Unfortunately I had a run in with a lady HSE Inspector on a small refurbishment project in my area. Her attitude was you should be NEBOSH qualified, she thought IOSH was a poor relation in health and safety, and asked who was I to be giving health and safety advice. I explained 30 years in the profession, a CDM certificate to level 3, FCIOB, MRICS, MAPM, MASI, Eur-Geo, Construction Manager, P402 Asbestos Surveyor qualified,… Read more »

Chris Preston
Chris Preston
7 years ago
Reply to  Graham Skeer

Hi Nick, Just wanted to say thanks for a great post, it is interesting to see and read everybody’s thoughts. I especially like the ten questions, I think these are great and will help people to establish the difference. Graham your point is fascinating, whereabouts in the country were you when your health and safety inspector visited and issued the fines? It’s interesting they took action on the client, although, I do think that this will be the best way to improve health and safety on sites (it’s likely to be unpopular, though!). I think from a client’s perspective; it… Read more »