• Simon Toseland
  • 10 April 2012

Five years of the CDM Regs - still more to be done?

As we pass the fifth anniversary of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) 2007 – which came into force on 6 April 2007 – there has been much discussion and debate on what works and how the Regulations can be improved. In the recent Government Review, Professor Lӧfstedt has prioritised CDM as one of the initial pieces of health and safety legislation that needs attention.  Having been a CDM Coordinator since the Regulations’ conception, and for two years previously, as a Planning Supervisor, I thought that I would air some of my views and thoughts on how things could be improved from the Client perspective. 

Construction Clients have the potential for creating the right conditions for the safe management of work. They are able to exert considerable influence and control, whatever the size of the project, so it is important that they understand that the decisions made early on will set the tone for the way things work in the later stages. As head of the procurement chain, the Client is in a unique position to both influence the way a project is run and to establish a positive safety culture. The Client’s influence on safety should not end with the completion of the appointment process, but should proactively engage the Contractor and participants in the supply chain throughout the construction process. 

Five years on and I am still finding that Clients responsible for construction projects (under CDM) are not fully aware of the extent of their responsibilities. Can you blame them? The title of the Regulations – Construction (Design and Management) Regulations – doesn’t immediately draw Clients in. How many, on face value, would think ‘This applies to me’? I wonder then if it’s not time for a name change? How about simply calling them ‘the Construction Regulations’? 

Furthermore, I often struggle to extract information, from a Client, at the start of the project, regarding their ambitions and how success will be monitored / measured. The importance therefore of preparing a suitable project brief is vastly underestimated. The project brief provides an opportunity for the Client to communicate expectations to the design team and should be a coherent description of the project that can be understood by all those likely to use it. 

It should clearly identify the objectives and main priorities of the project (which may include safety goals), the budget and timescales, and should also communicate as much factual information about the building / site as is available. Even at an early stage of the project (before a Designer has been appointed) case studies can equate the failure to provide an adequate client brief as a major contributory factor to a lack of understanding, inadequate coordination and late design changes – all of which can have a detrimental effect on health and safety. A good brief can also affect safety aspects associated with the operation of the completed building by complying with the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. The CDM ACoP as it stands does not fully address this and could promote the briefing process by incorporating a standard questionnaire and checklist. 

The delay in appointing the CDMC by the Client for notifiable construction projects remains a matter of concern, as the eventual Coordinator’s work can be significantly compromised if they are unable to influence the early work of Designers or be in a position to advise on the competency of Designers before appointment. I see an opportunity for better clarification here under CDM, by stipulating that, for notifiable projects, the very first appointment made by a Client is that of the CDMC. In my view the CDMC has a bad reputation caused by too many practices providing a substandard service. The Association for Project Safety is working hard to show the significant benefits that the CDMC can bring in helping a project finish on time, on budget and fit for purpose – which, let’s face it, are the main parameters for measuring success!       

With this in mind, the text within the CDM Approved Code of Practice, all 107 pages of it, may prove unmanageable for Clients, particularly those who are new to the process. Consequently, this may exclude people from really understanding what they need to know and do to prevent accidents or ill health in construction. The risk of the Client misinterpreting the Regulations may be heightened for non-notifiable projects as they would not be required to appoint a CDMC who acts as their advisor. I believe that the HSE has an ideal opportunity to reduce and simplify the ACoP and should use more working examples and case studies to facilitate understanding. After all, isn’t that the spirit and intention of CDM anyway?