What is a CDM Principal Designer?

A CDM principal designer overseeing construction blueprints


Many of the services we provide are no doubt familiar to you.  For instance, we all know what an architect does; loft conversions and house extensions are self-explanatory.


Chances are you can distinguish between the role of a structural engineer and a civil engineer.


There’s one service we provide, however, that you’ve probably never even heard of: CDM principal designer.


The name itself is pretty misleading – a CDM principal designer doesn’t design anything!  On numerous occasions, staff and clients alike have assumed that this position is related to the architectural or structural engineering side of the business, disciplines that are, indeed, design oriented.


In short, a CDM principal designer is brought in to plan, manage, monitor and co-ordinate health and safety during the pre-construction phase of a building project.


Intrigued?  We provide a small amount of information on our dedicated principal designer service page, however read on for a more detailed explanation.


Rules and Regulations – Introduction of the CDM Regulations 2015


Before we go any further, let’s take a look at how the role of CDM principal designer came about…


CDM Principal designer is a fairly new role that replaces the construction design & management co-ordinator (CDMC).


The role of the CDMC was simple: provide guidance on health and safety during the construction phase of a building project.


This was in line with the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, the main regulations for managing health, safety and welfare on construction projects in the UK.


However, the role of the CDMC and the enforcement of these regulations left a lot to be desired.  Indeed, a report issued in 2009 prompted a review of the regulations, in light of a rising number of construction related deaths and injuries.


The subsequent introduction of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 changed everything.


An updated version of the regulations introduced in 2007, they came into force on April 6th, 2015 with the aim of vastly improving construction safety.  As part of the changes, the role of CDMC was abolished and the role of CDM principal designer introduced.


Unlike the CDMC, the CDM principal designer has more control and influence over the management of a construction project.  In fact, it is a legal requirement – one must be appointed when there is more than one contractor involved.


Rows of different coloured hard hats

The Role of a Principal Designer


As alluded to earlier, the new name is somewhat confusing and has nothing to do with architecture nor engineering.


As set out in the CDM 2015, the main duty of a principal designer is to plan, manage and co-ordinate the pre-construction phase of any building work, including all health and safety.


The pre-construction phase is defined by the CDM 2015 as follows:


“…any period during which design or preparatory work is carried out for a project, which may continue during construction.”


In essence, the CDM principal designer must be appointed before any construction work commences.


It is important to note that if you are a commercial client and fail to appoint a competent CDM principal designer, you are legally required to carry out the duties yourself (see ‘Responsibilities and Legal Requirements’ below).


Responsibilities and Legal requirements


The role is extremely varied and encapsulates the following responsibilities, all of which are legal requirements:


  • Plan, manage, monitor and coordinate health and safety during the pre-construction phase;


  • Help and advise the client in bringing together pre-construction information, and provide the information designers and contractors need to carry out their duties (known as the Pre-Construction Information Pack);


  • Work with any other designers on the project to eliminate foreseeable health and safety risks to anyone affected by the work and, where that is not possible, take steps to reduce or control those risks;


  • Ensure that everyone involved in the pre-construction phase communicates and cooperates, coordinating their work wherever required;


  • Liaise with the principal contractor, keeping him or her informed of any risks that need to be controlled during the construction phase;


  • Ensure that a health and safety file is appropriately prepared, reviewed, updated and revised from time to time to take account of the work and any changes that have occurred;


  • At the end of the project, pass the health and safety file on to the client.


Key to this role is experience, as-well as the ability to form good working relationships with all parties concerned.


It is also worth mentioning that a CDM principal designer is either an organisation or an individual with enough technical and industry knowledge to carry out the role.  Further information can be found at the HSE website.


A principal designer wearing a tool belt

The Relationship Between the Client, the Principal Contractor and the CDM Principal Designer


The CDM principal designer is not the only individual responsible for health and safety – according to the CDM Regulations 2015, this is a duty shared between the client, the principal contractor and the CDM principal designer.


Although the client is ultimately responsible for the safe completion of the project, it is crucial that all three bodies collaborate and maintain a professional level of communication at all times.


This is to ensure that the necessary health and safety information is distributed to the right people at the right time, and all risks and hazards are minimised or controlled.


With our own in-house principal designer, HLN Engineering Ltd has carried out this function with great success on a wide range of construction projects, both domestic and commercial. 


If you require the services of a principal designer to help manage and co-ordinate the health and safety of a multi-team project, call today on 02080 996 388 or send an email to mail@hlngroup.co.uk.


Alternatively, visit our contact page for information on our regional offices.

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