The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) were first introduced to the construction industry in 1994, but were greatly reconstituted in 2007, to comply with the ‘EU Construction Sites Directive’. The new regulations also repealed the Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996, bringing the general provisions for safety and welfare onto construction sites into a single set of regulations. The legislation is supported by the HSE Approved Code of Practise (ACoP) L144 ‘Managing Health and Safety in Construction’. Those who operate the largest of construction projects do typically appear to grasp the basic principles of CDM, however, there are still grave concerns that those operating smaller projects, do not understand their duties, and ignore the potential benefits of good compliance. The regulations do not unnecessarily burden the very smallest of works, but apply in full to projects defined as notifiable, which are those lasting more than 30 days or exceeding 500 person days. If maintenance work meets these criteria, it is also notifiable. The only exception is to residential properties where the work is paid for by an owner occupier.
It could appear cynical to drive compliance with talk of criminal prosecutions, fines, rising insurance premiums, and although these are a grave reality, the main objective of CDM is to reduce the alarming rate of serious accidents related to construction and building work, and to protect those later maintaining or cleaning the structure from serious accidents. Accidents in construction, maintenance and cleaning all too often result in paralysing injuries, lost limbs and lost lives. The fact still remains that the vast majority of this type of serious accident occur to employees of small contractors (HSE: 18/50 fatal injuries on construction sites in 2011 were to the self employed), who typically work on small projects if not single trade sub contractors on larger projects. It seems clear that there is some interrelationship between this statistic and the general lack of awareness of the principles of CDM and other health and safety legislation amongst those operating smaller projects.
The regulations encourage the design, management, and planning for safety in the construction process right from early project inception, long before work begins on site. The CDM Coordinator will promote cooperation, coordination and communication between the parties from the start, providing the contractor with valuable and adequate pre-construction information, and ensuring that the client, designers and contractor are working together with their sights firmly set on health and safety. The regulations also promote the ‘principle of prevention’ which encourages Designers and CDM Coordinators to work together to eliminate hazards by design, rather than simply controlling them. Serious accidents which occur in construction invariably prove to have been wholly preventable with effective forward planning. An effective design risk assessment system during the pre-construction phase could help to eliminate the higher risk construction hazards. Examples could include removing the need to work at height, or the requirement to enter a confined space, or the exposure to Hand Arm Vibration Syndrome (HAVS) if another lower risk working method was available.
So, what are the common errors in compliance with CDM? The root errors are most probably a combination of the poor understanding inherent in all of the industries professions and trades, and the misconception that risks is low and that CDM compliance is too expensive and unnecessary on smaller projects. The more immediate errors generally include the late appointment of the CDM Coordinator (if at all in some cases), allowing the Coordinator no time to contribute to planning or design, not taking the recommendations of the Coordinator seriously enough, or using a CDM Coordinator who does not have the necessary competence to undertake the role, probably because the role has just been given to ‘someone in the office, who thinks they understand it’. The CDM Coordinator must be appointed as early as possible in the early design phase (RIBA Stage B) and must be competent to provide the role to the specific project type – Appendix 4 to the ACoP provides invaluable advice on competence assessment of the CDM Coordinator.
The Designer is often the first port of call for construction clients in developing their project, and they have a great deal of responsibility in educating clients, particularly small one-off construction clients who may not have even heard of CDM as to the principles of CDM and their ‘client duties’. The industry has found ‘getting the Designer on board’ very difficult at times on the smaller projects, but Designer awareness is crucial to effective CDM compliance and incorporation. The ACoP is an essential read for everybody engaging in construction work, and provides authoritative advice as to how the project should be managed to ensure full compliance.