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Safety in our hands

Peter Caplehorn

Changes addressed by the new CDM regulations bode well for health and safety on our sites

Architects and health and safety have not always been an easy mix. We now a new version of the CDM regulations; a chance perhaps for logic, clarity and a new sense of purpose.

It is clear that in previous decades designers felt disconnected from health and safety issues. But it is also clear that this has improved immeasurably, in the last five years there has hardly been an architect in practice that is not aware of their responsibilities. Yet I still witness bickering, especially from non-designers, who  consider that the efforts of architects and designers fall short.

The industry has made great progress in the last 20 years and continues to do so.  Health and safety has benefited as a result. Our goal should be no deaths, no injuries, and, with the increasing focus on health, no long-term construction related illness.

We will not achieve this by internecine debate or by insisting that my health and safety is better than yours. Let’s try to work more together, to be proportionate in our responses and above all to understand the other person’s perspective and work with it, not insist that it’s wrong. ‘Focus on the outcome not the outputs’ is a mantra as applicable to health and safety as to the rest of the industry.

The new CDM regulations give us the opportunity to change for the better, as the main changes show.

Move closer to the EU directive 

There has been friction with Brussels over the UK’s interpretation. This revision seeks to resolve that. This is not a bad move – several issues with the current regulation stem from the overly complex provisions amplified by a wordy Approved Code of Practice.

Removal of the CDM-C role 

These regulations generated the planning supervisor and then the construction design and management co-ordinator. The role of the CDM-C has taken on its own persona: a lot of good work has been done but the overall judgment has been negative. In short it is seen by most as adding very little. Along the way we seem to have forgotten that this was to have been a role not a person. Like all consultants, in future they will need to pitch for their work based on the full range of commercial pressures. They will be appointed on skill, expertise, and a fee bid not named in regulations. As with other consultants the strong and talented will survive, those not up to the job will not. There is a need for the construction health and safety professional adviser, but one appointed on need, merit and demand.  The HSE was very clear in the consultation in its criticism of the wasteful distracting practices that have grown alongside CDM.


The HSE was very clear in the consultation in its criticism of the wasteful distracting practices that have grown alongside CDM

Addition of the principal designer role 

The concept of balancing the regulatory provisions with the principal designer, undertaking a similar pre-construction role to that of the principal contractor in construction, is a good one. If you want a sensible set of information responding to the all the needs of the project especially health and safety, ask the person in charge of the design to arrange it. This is not something for architects or designers to shy away from; quite the reverse, it is support for the lead designer role.

The industry must now react to this proposal, preferably with clear determination to improve on before. It certainly should result in less bureaucracy and clear identification of the important issues. Design is complex, though this is not always understood by those not directly involved.  There has been a tendency to criticise too early or mask issues with all-too-easy point scoring.   

The principal designer role can also apply to an individual or organisation that is in control of the pre-construction phase. This gives opportunity and flexibility to others, it is not an automatic ticket for the architect.

Removal of competency requirements 

Competence checking arising out of the Approved Code of Practice appendix 4 provision has generated endless paperwork. Administrators’ tendency to build a complete industry sector around interpretation of what is seen to be the law is too common. This is a serious attempt to reverse this trend and rely on previous mechanisms. For architects and other members of professional institutions, professional competence  derives from their qualifications, their institutions’ rules and continued professional development. If we have to use schemes, they must follow the guidance as  PAS 91.  The HSE insists that a ‘competence card’ for occasional site visits is disproportionate.

Removal of the workplace regulations

Workplace regulations were included at the last revision. Again this has achieved little in the areas of planning and design, except to generate more paperwork and drain resources. A detailed analysis shows that most of the workplace regulations relating to issues normally undertaken by architects are already covered by the building regulations.

The HSE has said it wants to realign the co-ordination function. This should appeal to most architects

Reduction and removal of mixed messages 

Use of the term co-ordination in respect of CDM has always caused concern with architects and designers. For as long as architects have existed the term has been at the heart of the profession, and it means a great deal to those of us who have spent a lifetime in it. No matter how this is explained it still seems to cause confusion. In the development of the principal designer role the HSE has said it wants to realign the co-ordination function. This should appeal to most architects.

Simplified thresholds 

Removal of the notification threshold to align with the directive of 30 working days and  more than 20 workers or 500 person days.

Clear client definition 

That the client is the person at the core of the regulations is made clearer than ever in this proposal. Ensuring that the client is in control is essential.

Focus on small sites 

The statistics are clear: in recent years more accidents and issues have happened on small sites than elsewhere. Perhaps this is due to fewer resources and less expertise. Guidance is being produced to put the focus on these sites and everyone connected with them.


The regulations are in line with the telegraphed objectives  that have been known for some time – in fact nearly two years. They seek to correct some of the poorer parts of the previous regulations while arresting industry behaviours that contribute nothing.

Perhaps we can actually look forward to the day when having no health and safety issues is the rule not the exception.


Peter Caplehorn is chair of the regulations and standards group at the RIBA and policy director and deputy chief executive at the Construction Products Association



53 deaths a year from accidents (averaged from 2007/08 to 2011/12) Source: HSE

31,000 new cases of occupational disease/ill health (three year average) Source: HSE/Labour Force Survey

Two thirds or more of fatalities now occur on small sites – where fewer than 15 people work – the reverse of the historical picture Source: HSE


Road to CDM

1992 European Directive 92/57/EEC on minimum safety and health standards for temporary or mobile construction sites

1994 CDM introduced 

April 2007 CDM 2007 into force, supported by an extensive Approved Code of Practice, which had originally been written as guidance

October 2010 Common Sense Common Safety published

April 2013 Löfstedt Review published

March 2014 HSE CDM consultation published

April 2015 Revised regulations due to  come into force 



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