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Construction Design Management Regulations 2015 and the role of the Principal Designer

Updated: Feb 17

A new set of regulations have been published that will affect anyone who is managing a construction project. Find out what the law requires and how to administer your project in our article.

In April 2015, a new set of Construction Design Management Regulations came into force. They make several significant changes but perhaps the most important is the creation of the ‘Principal Designer’.

This is a designer who is either an organisation or (on smaller projects) an individual appointed by the client. They take control of the pre-construction phase of any project that involves (or is likely to involve) more than one contractor.

So what are the duties of a principal designer?

According to Section 11 of the CDM Regulations 2015, the principal designer must plan, manage, monitor and co-ordinate health and safety in the pre-construction phase, taking into account all relevant information that may affect the design work being carried out.

They must also give assistance and advice to the client and give the designers and contractors the information they need in order to carry out their duties so that foreseeable health and safety risks can be eliminated, reduced or controlled as possible.

Finally, they establish contact with the principal contractor and liaise with them, passing on information about any risks that need to be controlled during the construction phase of the project.

As can be seen by those who are familiar with the old CDM Regulations, the role of the Principal Designer is similar to that of the CDM Co-ordinator, which has now been abolished by the new regulations.

It should be remembered that under the CDM Regulations, the ultimate responsibility of ensuring a project complies with health and safety rests with the client.

So who might be appointed as a Principal Designer?

Whilst there is no specific requirement from the HSE regarding the type of person who should be appointed to the role, the Regulations do state that the appointed person must have appropriate technical knowledge of the industry in which they will be working and must be capable of managing health and safety throughout the design process.

Lead consultants, such as architects, engineers and surveyors may already have a planning, managing and monitoring role from the start of the project and they could satisfy the requirements of the regulations regarding early engagement. However, they need the experience and qualifications to carry out the role and should be able to produce a compliant health and safety file.

CDM Co-ordinator

Somebody who was the CDM Co-ordinator under the old regulations is able to be appointed Principal Designer as long as they meet the requirement to have been involved from an early stage and have design responsibility in relation to the project.

However, under the old CDM Regulations, a CDM Co-ordinator would be understood to have a separate role in the project and would not be involved in the early design phase to the extent that the Principal Designer is under the new Regulations.

Design & Build Contractor

The Principal Contractor can also be the Principal Designer. However, since the Regulations require the Principal Designer to carry out a monitoring role, the task will be easier to carry out if they and the Principal Contractor are separate entities. They will need to be appointed early enough for this to be the case.

The Client

There is no prohibition in the Regulations against the roles of client and principal designer being carried out by the same person or organisation.

However, if the client takes on the role of Principal Designer, they will have the additional responsibility of fulfilling the obligations of that role as well as their own.

What is a domestic client?

Under the CDM Regulations, a domestic client is a person who is having work carried out on their home, or that of a family member that is not done as part of any business. Commercial clients face full client duties but domestic clients will often pass on their duties.

If the project is one that has a single contractor, then that contractor takes on the legal duties of the client as well as those which attach to them in the role of contractor. This will generally mean they do little more than they would normally do in health and safety risk management.

If the project has more than one contractor, then the principal contractor will take on the legal duties of the client as well as those duties which the CDM regulations say the principal contractor must undertake. If the domestic client does not appoint a principal contractor, then the contractor in control of the construction work will carry out the client duties.

On a project that involves more than one contractor, the domestic client may appoint an architect (or other designer) to manage the project. Rather than the principal contractor taking on the client duties, the domestic client’s appointee can do so instead, as long as they have their client’s written agreement.

If a designer is in charge of co-ordination and management of a project, they are assumed to be the principal designer. However, if there is no written agreement between the designer and the domestic client to confirm that they are taking on the client duties, they will automatically pass to the principal contractor.

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