What does the introduction of a Principal Designer really mean for social housing clients?

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Gary Bampton asks the question:  What does the introduction of a Principal Designer really mean for social housing clients?

Social housing providers are familiar with CDM2007, and implications of Regulation 9 of the Approved Code of Practice (ACoP) which identifies specific duties for non-domestic clients, including but not limited to:

  • Designers, contractors and other team members that are engaged must be competent, adequately resourced and appointed early enough for the work they have to do
  • Allow sufficient time for each stage of the project, from concept onwards
  • Ensure contractors have made arrangements for suitable welfare facilities to be provided from the start and throughout the construction phase
  • Provide the contractor with pre-constriction information

The HSE however propose significant changes to the Regulations, including but not limited to:

  • Significant structural simplification of the regulations
  • Replace the ACoP with targeted guidance
  • Replace the CDM-C role with a Principal Designer (PD) role
  • Alter the threshold for appointment of co-ordinators and notification

The HSE consultation process concluded in July 2014, having obtained a number of responses, including that from the Association of Project Safety (APS). A number of key points include:

  • Concerns are raised about the way the HSE intend to implement the Regulations
  • Regulations have been reduced in size; however the intention to make the Regulations more easily understandable will depend upon the accompanying Guidance, which is not yet available
  • Less regulation will leave the door open to increased misinterpretation
  • The PD role is based on sound principles, i.e. the APS believe that the pre-construction co-ordinator should always be part of an integrated project team, however definition of the PD role needs further clarity, as do client responsibilities

The APS believe ‘that the majority of design organisations at the SME and Micro levels do not currently have sufficient construction experience or health & safety knowledge and will either fail to discharge the role correctly or will subcontract the coordination function to a former CDM coordinator with an added fee margin.”

This latter situation will result in increased costs for social housing clients, and not the savings suggested by the Impact Assessment, and would hence be contrary to ‘better regulation’ principles.’ However in addition, ‘with the correct guidance and suitable enforcement the appointment of a construction phase coordinator should improve worker protection provided that the Principal Contractor has sufficient skill, knowledge and experience and has the desire to undertake the coordination of health and safety properly.’

The changes will enable the UK Government to meet the TMCS Directive but it should be anticipated that it will lead to increased costs for clients on smaller projects as smaller Principal Contractors pass on their costs to Clients. Feedback from the APS does not therefore fully align with the HSE Impact Assessment, nor does it share some of the positive views regarding benefits. The impact on the social housing sector remains to be seen, particularly in relation to ‘say’ smaller refurbishment projects.

Social housing providers therefore are encouraged to guard against a lackadaisical approach, particularly where smaller SME contractors are instructed with little experience, knowledge or capacity to fulfil the role of Principal Designer.

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