H&S, principal designer, safety

What to expect from your Principal Designer

26th October 2021   |   Jamie Barrett   |   Reading Time: 5 minutes

The term ‘principal designer’ is often misunderstood by those outside the construction industry. However, it is a crucial role in the delivery of construction projects involving more than one contractor and, therefore, it is important that you understand your responsibilities and how appointing a principal designer to act on your behalf can ensure you fulfil your legal duties.

This article explains the role of a principal designer, as well as the client duties. Let’s start by taking a look at the legislation.

Understanding the legislation

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM2015) current revision came into effect in April 2015. The aim of this, and the preceding legislation, is to raise health and safety (H&S) standards and ensure that H&S issues are addressed in order to “reduce the risk to those who build, use and maintain structures”. 

As you can see from the definition, the purpose of the legislation goes far beyond the construction of the building, and considers whether the building can be safely maintained in the future.

In 2015, the role of CDM coordinator was replaced by the role of principal designer with the new role being responsible for the H&S co-ordination from the pre-construction phase and beyond. The change was made to assign responsibility to a named individual throughout the design phase, when there is the greatest opportunity to influence the end design 

HSE guidance for January 2015 defines the principal designer role as, “designers appointed by the client on projects involving more than one contractor. They can be an organisation or an individual with sufficient knowledge, experience and ability to carry out the role.”

Click here for more information from HSE about principal designers 

Does your project need a Principal Designer?

As stated above the role of principal designer is required for all projects involving more than one contractor. The role can be combined into the role of project manager, architect, or other suitably qualified consultant including a specialist principal designer.

Effectively this means all construction projects are required to fulfil the legal duties of the CDM 2015.

Appointment of the principal designer should, ideally, happen at the earliest possible point in the concept design phase in order to have maximum influence on the development of the design. However, in our experience the appointment is often made slightly later.

What are your duties as a construction project client?

As the client it’s important to understand your legal duties and obligations in order to ensure you fulfil them.

The client is defined as organisations or individuals for whom a construction project is carried out. In the case of a domestic construction project, the client is defined as, ‘people who have construction work carried out on their own home, or the home of a family member that is not done as part of a business, whether for profit or not.’

As the client is not generally expected to be an expert in the delivery of construction projects they can appoint suitable consultants to act on their behalf.

Domestic clients will usually transfer the responsibility to the contractor for their project, alternatively they may directly appoint a specialist consultant.

Commercial clients should ensure they set out how their duties will be fulfilled through the client brief. This may be drafted by a project manager or other professional acting on their behalf.

And you would expect the duties of the client are complex, however, as a high level overview they include;

  • appointing relevant designers and contractors that holds the necessary qualifications to discharge their roles.
  • clearly defining the roles and responsibilities of the project team.
  • ensuring those appointed to fulfil H&S roles are properly skilled experienced and qualified through robust due diligence.
  • allocating sufficient time and resources for the delivery of the project 
  • providing effective processes, procedures and mechanisms for the communication and coordination of the project delivery team’s activities.
  • providing the required information to the appropriate parties in a timely manner.
  • monitoring the performance of the principal designer and principal contractor via regular meetings or reports.
  • arranging welfare facilities and ensuring they are well-maintained.
  • reviewing all arrangements to ensure they remain relevant and effective. 

Should you, as the client, decide not to appoint a principal designer to act on your behalf you must ensure you fulfil the legal obligations yourself.

What does a Principal Designer do?

As the client, you are not generally expected to be an expert in the delivery of construction projects. Therefore your appointed principal designer must ensure that you are properly briefed and informed and that their service meets the legal requirements. 

The principal designer’s duties include;

  • informing you of your duties as the construction project client. 
  • planning, managing, monitoring, and coordinating health and safety in the pre-construction phase to ensure that risks are managed throughout the design process. 
  • identifying and eliminating any foreseeable health and safety risks affecting the construction and use of the building.
  • supporting and advising the client with health and safety related requirements.
  • overseeing your designer’s compliance.
  • contributing to the production of pre-construction information for the design team and project contractors.
  • preparing, managing and updating the H&S file throughout the project ensuring it is ready for delivery to the client on completion. 
  • working with the principal contractor to inform any health and safety elements to be planned for and considered during the construction phase.
  • facilitating collaboration across the project team.

The principal designer should remain engaged on the project for as long as there is a need for their services. This means that, if there is any likely need for changes to the project, the principal designer’s services should be retained. 

If the role is no longer required prior to completion, the principal designer must fully brief the principal contractor and ensure the up to date H&S file is passed to them. 

What qualifications does a Principal Designer need?

In order to fulfil the legal definition, the principal designer must hold the relevant skills, knowledge and experience as an individual, and have organisational capacity if you are appointing an organisation.

In turn the skills, knowledge and experience must be proportionate to the complexity of the project and its associated risks. 

The HSE states that the skills, knowledge and experience should;

  • be technically relevant to the construction industry and the project; and
  • include an in depth understanding of how the pre-construction and construction phases of construction projects operate. 

As a client you must ensure that you appoint an appropriate person to act on your behalf. A reliable and reassuring way to do this is by appointing an Association for Project Safety (APS), Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) or Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) regulated firm This means you will have the assurance that you are engaging a reputable company that you can trust and rely on.

How Evolution5 can help you?

Evolution5 has a technically qualified and skilled team that includes highly experienced principal designers and CDM advisors, plus project managers for the management and coordination of designs.

With extensive construction experience, Evolution5 is perfectly positioned to work collaboratively with your design team from the early stages of your project to ensure the build phase runs smoothly and regulatory compliance.

Evolution5 is a professional consultancy offering principal designer, CDM advisor, project management, quantity surveying, employer’s agent, and contract administration services for projects across London and the South East.

If you have a construction project and would like to explore how the team can help you, click the button below or call 023 8040 5073.