New CDM proposals – will they work?

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By James Ritchie 

The Health and Safety Executive have finally published their long-awaited Consultation Document for their proposed changes to the CDM Regulations. At the time of writing, the proposals have only be public for a week but there are some fundamental issues that the construction industry will have to get to grips with if these proposals are to be a success.

The policy objectives behind the proposed Construction (Design and Management)

Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) are to maintain or improve worker protection, simplify the regulatory package, improve health and safety standards on small construction sites, implement the Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive (TMCSD) in a proportionate way, discourage bureaucracy and meet better regulation principles. Fine aspirations but will they actually be achieved?

The most important first step must be to look carefully at the wording – not to simply to judge the overall principles and ideas being put forward, but to examine the ways in which they might, or more to the point might not, work in practice. What do the words really mean? Will they deliver better construction health and safety than the past two sets of CDM Regulations or are we going round the houses to deal with what are essentially “political” concerns?

An initial reading of the proposed CDM 2015 Regulations would suggest that the ‘Principal Designer’ role is just another name for the CDM Co-ordinator but appointed at an earlier stage. If so, and it works, then this might be a good move. The lack of early appointment of a health and safety co-ordinator has always been a problem area for the industry as well as the HSE. We will also have to see how designers undertaking the new Principal Designer role will be required to discharge their new duties. Will they be able to call on another construction professional for assistance or to undertake their health and safety coordination duties if they do not themselves have sufficient skill knowledge and ability? Will designers have the commitment to focus on health and safety aspects of the design process when they have so many other pressures and issues to consider? Will an architect give the ‘boring’ health and safety co-ordination issues the same attention as the aesthetic, sustainability, cost and quality aspects of a design?

The HSE also believe that the simplification of the structure and language of the Regulations will lead them to be more easily accessible to smaller businesses. This is good news as most problems occur on smaller to medium sized projects but many SME designers and contractors will not even look at a copy of the new regulations, or the guidance produced, as even now some still do not know what their own duties are – and CDM has been around for 19 years!

The HSE goes on to state that removal of the explicit requirements for competence from the Regulations could potentially lead to substantial savings over time, especially to small businesses. This is more worrying as competence and capability continues to be one of the major concerns of the industry and the cause of so many accidents and ill-health in construction. The HSE will have to demonstrate exactly how they see the competence of duty holders being maintained, if not improved. Whilst Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) and PAS91 pre-qualification processes are undoubtedly the way to go with corporate competence, they do not cover standards and requirements for individual competence. Individual competence will only be increased or maintained for construction professionals and others if their governing membership bodies determine that health and safety competence is something worth pursuing and demanding of their members.

One change to the CDM Regulations that has to be implemented is to do with the application of the regulations on projects where there is going to be more than one contractor on site. The under-pinning European Directive states that all projects where there is more than one contractor on site must have someone to co-ordinate the health and safety of the project. This means that the requirement to appoint a health and safety co-ordinator will have to start applying to domestic projects. The HSE seem to have done a rather cute ‘side-step’ here. They have said that if a client is a domestic client, then the client duties will have to be carried out by the contractor.

The questions are many – the time to consider, and respond adequately, very short. But consider and respond to the Consultation document the industry must for, as has been said twice before, “the industry has to get CDM right this time around!”


James Ritchie is the Head of Corporate Affairs at the Association for Project Safety.

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