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A Matter of Principal Designer

11 May 2015
Louis Wustemann introduces Frances Whinder’s review of how the new principal designer role might work out under CDM 2015.

Since CDM is all about coordinating  construction, it’s no surprise that much of the discussion since the changes to CDM were announced, have been about the removal of a named coordinator and the addition of health and safety duties to designers’ remits. Do architects, the most obvious candidates for the new principal designer role of making sure safety information passes between client, designer and contractors, really have any appetite for the role?

“Some designers will be willing and able to take on the role, but others, while they might be capable, are not going to be willing. Architects already have a zillion pressures. They will not welcome having the principal designer role forced onto them,” cautions Greg Brown, deputy chief executive at the International Institute for Risk and Safety Management (IIRSM).

“Architects have a lot on their plate, that’s true,” concedes Paul Bussey, technical consulting associate at architects Scott Brownrigg and chair of the Designers’ Initiative on Health and Safety.  “We don’t want to tell a contractor how to put up a scaffold, for example, because that is not our area of expertise. But we can coordinate that with specialist contractors. We have enough of an understanding to say: ‘We need a scaffold. It’s not going to need to be a supporting scaffold. It will be a cantilevered scaffold. Now Mr Contractor, you get on and do it’.”

Bussey believes the challenge will be getting designers who have been put off previously by cumbersome risk assessments to feel enthusiastic about health and safety: It will also be a challenge, he says, to convince designers — and perhaps contractors and clients too — that taking a lighter touch to risk management will not land them in trouble with the regulator. “But we’ve got to give people the confidence that, with their sketches and notes, they have gone as far as they reasonably can.”

Where designers do not have the in house expertise to meet the knowledge requirements of the principal designer role, there is an expectation that they will bring in external advisers, who might have been CDMCs in the past. “The APS [Association for Project Safety] has been working on a contract for designers who want to bring in a CDM consultant or CDM adviser.

I think that is the way it is going to go,” says Graham Taylor, director at construction consultancy Turner & Townsend. “Designers won’t contract out the principal designer role because they can’t contract out the duties. But they will be looking to get advice.” But relying on outside advice to buttress the principal designer role could bring its own difficulties, says Andrew Rush, partner at law firm Birketts. “The HSE aren’t remotely interested in contractual relationships.

If there is an accident, you could have the person who has been subcontracted saying the principal designer didn’t give them a key piece of information. In the past, the CDMC had a duty to get that information.”

A longer version of this article appears in Health and Safety at Work, www.healthandsafetyatwork.com