The introduction of the Principal Designer role

News November 20, 2020

Examining the impact of the introduction of the principal designer role and the current challenges the role faces, from Covid-19 to current legislation to leaving Europe.

The change in Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations from CDM 2007 to CDM 2015 saw the introduction of a new role, that of principal designer. Previously, elements of this particular position: planning, monitoring and coordinating health and safety during the design and planning of the pre-construction phase of a project might have been taken on by the project architect or other stakeholder. In order to align with the European Temporary Working Directive and establish greater clarity, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) sought to ensure that someone completely owned this area of responsibility.

Now it’s clear that the principal designer is appointed by the client and takes the lead in coordinating health and safety matters, prior to appointment of the contractor. As well as technical knowledge of the various phases of design and construction, the principal designer must have the people skills to be able to closely cooperate with the client, the principal contractor and the designers, so it’s very much a multi-faceted position. I believe it’s a really key role in terms of influencing how health and safety risks should be incorporated into the overall management of a project. The principal designer has a significant part to play in influencing the decisions at the pre-construction phase. The decisions taken during that stage have a massive impact on whether a project achieves its health and safety objectives.

At Concert, we offer the client an advisory CDM service, which supports the them in ensuring the governance of many of the day-to-day procedures on a construction site. Covid-19 has, of course, had a huge impact on what and how various roles are fulfilled on site. New safety protocols in terms of social distancing have had to be incorporated, which has impacted the speed at which projects progress.

The construction industry in general has adapted pretty well to the pandemic and the way it has done so could definitely be a benchmark for other industries. Covid-19 has also had an impact on driving the design of office buildings towards accommodating lower headcounts, with the principal designer taking a direct role in that decision-making process. This is something we at Concert are proactively addressing with our clients.

The Draft Building Safety Bill, which was published in July 2020 signifies a reform in terms of the responsibilities of, among others, the principal designer. The Bill was produced after the Hackitt report, commissioned in the wake of the Grenfell Tower Fire of 2017,  which concluded that major reform of building regulations and fire safety was urgently required. This included looking at the entire life cycle of a building, from the design and construction stages through to occupancy.

The Bill, which represents the most wide-ranging improvement to building safety law in nearly four decades, covers residential, multi-occupational buildings which are 18 metres in height or above. For clients, it increases accountability and also assigns particular duties in order to mitigate and manage risk better. To break that down, this involves not only making sure the appointed team can show they have experience of working on similar projects, but also compliance over and above the CDM 2015 regulations. Steps include submitting plans, construction control, fire and emergency files to the regulator, ensuring a change control plan is in place before work starts and also agreeing a site inspection programme. The Bill also takes into account the completion stage of a project, where the principal designer and project contractor have to jointly sign a conformity declaration and send it to the regulator prior to occupancy. Here at Concert, we are continuously updating our health and safety knowledge, in line with changes in legislation, and as such, we are fully able to support clients on schemes, when the Draft Building Safety Bill become law.

On top of the effects of Covid-19 and the implications of the Draft Building Safety Bill, there is the situation in which we find ourselves regarding leaving the European Union. There might be some corners of the industry, which might want some regulations rewritten to make them more fit for purpose post-Brexit, but then UK companies will still have to trade with their European counterparts and so consistency of standards continues to be imperative.

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