Who will be 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 The associated, draft guidance (L153) offers no scenarios describing who might be PD under different procurement models nor the skills, knowledge, experience and organisational capability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. We therefore don’t know who this will be or how it will be put into practice. At present the HSE have offered no assistance in terms of defining PD. Therefore, let’s review what we do know:

A PD must be appointed by the client if there is, or is likely to be, more than one contractor on a project.
The PD is the designer appointed to fulfil certain other CDM Regulations (See Regulation 2).
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 does offer additional insights into HSE’s thinking behind the new regulations. The PD has “control over the pre-construction phase of the project”, essentially the design stage, and has 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.”

It would appear then that two distinct functions are emerging: the PD controls the design process and they co-ordinate health and safety matters relating to design. The PD seems 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? For a client who specifies all the finishes for simple redecorations of a modern building design co-ordination can be fairly straightforward. The structure and designs may present no significant, unusual risks. In the situation where there will be more than one contractor; the client could be PD. For more complex projects it would be advisable they appoint people with specific skills, knowledge etc. However where clients fulfil these duties by an internal design team they will still be the PD.
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, and therefore could also arguably be the PD. This is not usually advisable: You must have, or must appoint dutyholders who possess the ability to fulfil these roles (Regulation 8).
As we have seen, a potential 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.

Lead designers (e.g. architects, engineers and surveyors) already plan, manage and monitor (i.e. control) the design phase and therefore should be PD but may not have all these qualities. CDM co-ordinators who are not designers can often lack the technical skills to control design work. Perhaps a solution is for PD to be a lead designer with ‘ex’ CDM-C support working together…

Until the HSE put their heads above the parapets, speculation will continue as to who and how this will work.

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