CDM 2015 A New Dawn for Construction Design Management

08.04.15

by Paul Bussey, Associate Technical Consultant at Scott Brownrigg

The 6 April saw the new Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015 come into effect, following a lengthy 5 year evaluation of the CDM 2007 Regulations, brought about as a result of the Government’s early day motion. Whilst the new regulations will have significant implications for all those involved in construction, the intention is simple - to prevent the ill health or death of construction and maintenance operatives, whilst also allowing for the delivery of good design. In part this will be realised through replacing the appointment of a CDM-Co-ordinator with the appointment of a ‘Principal Designer’.

This evaluation process has been an object lesson in the importance of good coordination between all parts of the Construction Industry, which was the original intention of these regulations. The outcome is a re-focussing on the team approach, underpinned by the intentions of the overarching 1974 Health and Safety at Work Act, and aimed at proportionality, reasonable foreseeability, and practicability.  This, in conjunction with the 1999 Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations where the concept of “suitable and sufficient assessment of risk” was reinforced, set the landscape within which the 1994 and 2007 CDM Regulations sat.

Whilst originally intended for the process industries, such as manufacturing or construction, where absolute duties to eliminate and reduce risk could be applied, the application of these regulations to design tasks has been much more complex. This has, in some cases, led to confusion and unintentional misinterpretation by some non-design trained duty-holders, who have expected designers to ‘design out’ all risk from their concept designs. The implementation of such expectations can stifle creative, innovative design and inhibit designers from establishing acceptable or tolerable levels of risk within the constraints of cost, time, quality, aesthetics, and contextual expectations of individual projects. This disconnect has caused frustration within the industry, and has highlighted the need to balance and co-ordinate Health and Safety prevention principles and innovative design right from the start of the design stage. A return to the original intentions of the ‘Planning Supervisor’ in 1994 has been necessary. The new Principal Designer role addresses these issues and, as required by the 1992 EU Directive, provides a Health and Safety Coordinator of the Project Preparation phase embedded within the existing design team and in control of preparing and modifying [actual] designs”.

The new Principal Designer function is thus intended to be a corporate one, to integrate health and safety considerations into the design process in a proportionate and practicable manner, to avoid and minimize risk, so far as reasonably practicable, and to provide a design which not only meets the client brief but sets and identifies a tolerable level of risk for the client to fund, the contractor to build, and the user to operate.

In order to facilitate such an equitable position it is essential for the entire project team to be able to work together as a cohesive unit, without the fear of blame or civil or criminal prosecution in the event of a failure or accident. Unfortunately history shows us that, in carrying out complex and sophisticated tasks, it is almost inevitable that some accidents will occur, primarily due to human behaviour, unforeseeable events, and calamity, even though we have made huge progress to reduce their occurrences and impact. A plateauing of health and safety statistical evidence across the world supports this claim. The aspiration to simply “design out” risk has arguably reached its effective limits. There is now a need to identify a more sophisticated, and more intuitive, process of risk identification, analysis and identification with the end result of reducing risk. This “Hazard Awareness Risk Management” (HARM) process sets a new agenda for health and safety and is at the heart of a worldwide “Safety Differently” approach which we identify here as “CDM Differently”.

Design, and the communication of design, is a highly visual process requiring the production of visual images to assimilate the various contributory threads of team members into one cohesive entity. The integration of safety into design is no different. By identification of potential harm visually and directly on drawings, issues can be discussed in design and project team forums,  managed to a tolerable level within the constraints of the design intent, and embedded into the normal design process. The alternative narrative or numerical method for identifying, analysing, and recording risk cannot communicate all the contributory factors to complicated risk pathways in complex designs in the same direct, transparent, and collaborative way.

The immediate future requires the industry to re-organise itself during the project preparation (design) phases to embrace risk and identify levels of tolerability.  At the other end of the process, during the project execution (construction) phase, small and medium size contractors need to embed these regulations into their approach. The professional institutions and trade associations need to take ownership of the skills, knowledge and experience of their own members, and that of similar professionals, by the introduction of suitable and sufficient training and lifetime learning processes- to move away from the unintended prevalence of competency assessment and card schemes that have developed.

This process will require a level of integrated professionalism from all construction industry participants, including the Health and Safety Executive inspectors and prosecution officers, Public Indemnity Insurance lawyers, and other judicial members of the legal system. Case law should not be the only means to test whether or not these interpretations of the regulations are adequate.

The new CDM landscape should enable design innovation and excellence whilst also facilitating the inclusion of safe methods of working on every construction project; an outcome to which we can all aspire.