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December 16, 2015

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CDM and the client: Planning, pre-empting and being proactive

Elliott Lockyer looks at the changing role of the client within CDM projects, and the importance of project planning and managing safety from the outset, not reacting to it once the worst happens.

In his article, Elliott looks at research, which shows a link between sucessful construction management and a client’s understanding of the regulations.

Construction safety issues

According to Booty (2009, P61) the key health and safety issues in respect of construction activities are as a result of:

  • failure to assess risks adequately;
  • failure to recruit and retain skilled workers;
  • failure to ensure proper site management;
  • poor health and safety systems;
  • inadequate resourcing of site management;
  • poor leadership;
  • inappropriate equipment; and
  • failure to plan work properly.

The list compiled by Booty is unranked in importance but the author suggests that project planning has a significant ability to influence safety. The CDM regulations were introduced to place duties on those involved in a project to plan for safety and welfare at all stages of the construction process from the planning stages to end of life building demolition. New legislation has involved a shift in the importance of client duties with “the greatest responsibility now falling on the client who has overall responsibility for the successful management of the project” (CITB, 2015).

A study by Zhou et al (2015, P339) demonstrates a trend the author experienced, with regard to the focus of construction. Zhou et al studied over 400 academic construction safety articles and found few to be focused on the early project phases.

Zhou et al (2015) found that prior to 1995 research topics focused mainly on accident statistics, accident cost, safety regulation and safety measures

After 1995 Zhou et al observed that established research topics like accident statistics and safety measures were still being studied, as well as an increasing focus on proactive management of accidents, safety monitoring, near miss management and safety knowledge.

Proactive safety management

This change in focus displays a knowledge improvement from studying reactive topics to now being focused on preventative subjects. This study confirms, along with the shift from the government in the latest CDM regulations that contractors and designers are now expected to be fully aware of their duties and the focus is now on planning and the duties of the clients. The lack of academic writing and publications on the role of the client and their duties is reflected in the Zhou et al work leaving a gap in the knowledge and the author suggests, a large potential for construction planning research to be focused upon this.

In their research Baxendale and Jones say: “Once a client has taken a decision to commission a project the initiative lies with the client to apply the CDM regulations” (2000, P37). When researching examples of litigation involving the failure of a client to fulfil their duties the general trend shows that a failure to properly plan is the cause as: “the duties of the client are confined to a preparatory phase of the construction project” (Howes and Baldry, 2006, P9).

This clearly shows that if a client familiarises themselves with the regulations and makes every effort to plan for safety and the competence of other duty holders they have a far greater chance of being successful in construction management. Multiple authors on the subject have commented upon the link between success and a client’s understanding of the regulations.

The importance of the client

Clients have little ability to influence a project when the construction phase has begun so making the most of their opportunity at the start of a project is paramount. A conscientious client who believes in the ethical principles of health and safety, corporate social responsibility, acting in good faith, developing partnerships etc. will undoubtedly produce the highest quality pre-construction information without being forced to. As noted, any documents produced under CDM are to aid project planning success not just ‘documents for documents sake’.

Cases of client failures leading to prosecution are available online. It is the author’s opinion that enforcing the production of pre-construction information could have a very significant impact on client education as it would require research and therefore act as a self-taught exercise in construction safety and the regulations themselves.

The concept of pre-construction information has been featured in construction safety management texts for decades but has been overlooked and now with new regulations placing greater duties on the client it is time to reinforce its value and the expectations of the HSE to see excellent example for all projects.

Access to information and guidance

The regulations have featured pre-construction information for some time but the author had to actively seek the information on what it requires leaving it out of reach to novice clients.

The 2007 ACOP is hundreds of pages and probably quite onerous for a novice, when in fact their duties could be complied separately into a brief guide containing worked examples. A guide of this type is available for the 2015 regulations but only states that pre-construction information must be provided with no details on what this includes (INDG411, A short guide for construction clients on the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015). This needs to be updated with information on what pre-construction information should include. Clearly, less information available to the client is in fact a backwards step in this respect.

Further research could be undertaken in this field to determine what else, if anything, would contribute to construction safety in terms of pre-construction information and client involvement.


  • Booty, F. (2009). Facilities management. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. P19-82.
  • Baxendale, T. & Jones, O. (2000). Construction design and management regulations in practise – progress on implementation. International Journal of Project Management. 18 (99), 33-40.
  • Construction Industry Training Board. (2015). New health and safety duties for clients. Available: Last accessed 25/02/2015.
  • Howes, V. & Baldry, D. (2006). The duties of construction clients under health and safety legislation and their impact on the minimisation of risk and the avoidance of failure. Construction Law. 22 (8), P499-514.
  • Zhou, Z. & Goh, Y & Li, Q. (2015). Overview and analysis of safety management studies in construction. Safety Science. 72, 337-350.

Elliott Lockyer is construction safety advisor for idom merebrook.

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