The Role of the Principal Designer

08 Oct

The Role of the Principal Designer

What is a Principal Designer? Why do you need one? We asked the professionals!

Shore construction consultants answer these questions and explain why the Principal Designer is critical in safely bringing your design ideas to life on site.

We are fortunate to have successfully worked with Shore Engineering on many of our projects.

Shore logo

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM2015) are the principle set of regulations for managing the health, safety and welfare of construction projects on mainland UK, and apply to all construction projects regardless of size, complexity, scale, value or location. They also apply regardless of the type of client, whether it be Commercial or Domestic. They sit under the Health & Safety at Work act 1974, the overarching H&S legislation for the whole of the UK.

Health and Safety Executive

All appointments of duty holders under the regulations must be made by the client in writing. Where a client does not formally appoint an individual or organisation to undertake the Principal Designer role (or other duty holders respectively), under the regulations the client themselves is deemed to fulfil the Principal Designer role.

Health and Safety Regulations

The role of the Principal Designer is to plan, manage and monitor the pre-construction phase with regard to health & safety, and to work with the client and the wider design team to apply the Principals of Prevention and seek to reduce or mitigate all reasonably foreseeable risks to safety & health associated with the design, so far as is reasonably practicable. CDM is not about squashing all architectural flair from project design, in fact, this would make a very dull working & living environment but is there to encourage the design team regardless of discipline or background, to think about how their design can be safely constructed on site as well as future maintainability by the client or end user. The whole life cycle of the design should also be considered, including eventual refurbishment or removal/demolition.

Where Shore are appointed on a project to assist with CDM compliance, we take opportunities to attend Design Team Meetings or Workshops where possible to provoke the thought process with the whole team and work collectively to overcome and discuss any pertinent H&S concerns. We would assist with population of the project Design Risk Register (DRR), to capture key design decisions and thoughts which is used as a live document throughout future design development.

Team Triangle

We would also usually seek to attend site at an early stage to understand the current building or site and familiarise ourselves with any site specific risks or considerations which the team should be aware of. In conjunction to any existing information, we are able to obtain or are provided by the client, we would produce a Pre-Construction Information pack on behalf of the client and circulate to all appointed or tendering parties, in parallel to the DRR.

CDM is all about proportionality; therefore it would be highly unlikely to expect dozens of design meetings and reams of unnecessary paperwork for a very small office cosmetic refresh but at the same time a large complex new build project with structural considerations you would expect a significant amount more detail & involvement. The old saying “Don’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut” comes to mind. Everything has to be proportionate to the nature, scale, and complexity of the project, but should also be appropriate to the recipient(s) receiving the documentation at the end.

team meeting

A common misconception is that the Principal Designer is the project ‘Health & Safety’ consultant. Health & Safety is very broad and whilst there is clearly a very distinct overlap on many levels between CDM and H&S, it is easy for the CDM aspect to become watered down and in essence CDM becoming a tick box procedural exercise. During the construction stage, the Principal Designer will continue to work with the design team and Principal Contractor discussing and reviewing ongoing design development.

The final step in the CDM process is the Health & Safety File. Whilst may people refer to this as the Operations & Maintenance Manual (O&M manual), the H&S File is much more focussed on the H&S aspects of the construction works and is a specific requirement under CDM2015 for the Principal Designer. The O&M manual, usually provided by the Principal Contractor, provides all information to the end user on types of equipment installed, cleaning frequency, component part numbers etc., whereas the H&S file will specifically provide information such as specific access principals for the installations and/or life safety systems, as well as residual risk matters – this will additionally include a concise scope of works, a list of the record as built drawings, life safety certification, i.e. electrical and/ or fire safety systems, and a Residual Risk Register.

Once the project is complete on site, and the Health & Safety File is closed & formally handed to the client, the role of the Principal Designer under the regulations comes to an end. However, it is sometimes useful especially on larger projects, to have a debrief meeting or lessons learnt exercise so that the project team can collectively share concerns or issues which will ultimately help the wider team on their next project opportunities.

Neil Fenn BSc (Hons) MCIOB CMaPS TechIOSH
Shore Engineering


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