What does a Principal Designer do?

The role of a Principal Designer is to provide the client with a key project advisor in respect of construction health and safety risk management matters. They assist and advise the client on the appointment of competent designers and contractors and the adequacy of management arrangements. They ensure proper co-ordination of the health and safety aspects of the design process. They facilitate good communication and cooperation between project team members and co-ordinate the preparation of the health and safety file.

The early appointment of the Principal Designer is crucial for effective planning and establishing management arrangements from the start. The regulations require the appointment to take place as soon as is practicable after initial design work or any other preparation for construction work has begun. This will allow the client to appraise their project needs and objectives, including the business case and any possible constraints on development to enable them to decide whether or not to proceed with the project before appointing the Principal Designer.

The Principal Designer needs to be in a position to be able to co-ordinate the design work and advise on the suitability of the designs, and therefore, they should be appointed before significant detailed design work begins. Significant detailed design work includes preparation of the initial concept design and implementation of any strategic brief. As a scheme moves into the detailed design stage, it becomes more difficult to make fundamental changes that eliminate hazards and reduce risks associated with early design decisions.

Proper consideration of the health and safety implications of the design for those who build and maintain the structure will make a significant contribution to reducing its whole life cost, and will make its delivery to time, cost and quality more likely.

It is crucial that the Principal Designer has sufficient independence to carry out the tasks effectively.


What are the Principal Designers duties under the CDM Regulations 2015?

(1) The principal designer must plan, manage and monitor the pre-construction phase and coordinate matters relating to health and safety during the pre-construction phase to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the project is carried out without risks to health or safety.

(2) In fulfilling the duties in paragraph (1), and in particular when—

(a) design, technical and organisational aspects are being decided in order to plan the various items or stages of work which are to take place simultaneously or in succession; and

(b) estimating the period of time required to complete such work or work stages,

the principal designer must take into account the general principles of prevention and, where relevant, the content of any construction phase plan and health and safety file.

(3) In fulfilling the duties in paragraph (1), the principal designer must identify and eliminate or control, so far as is reasonably practicable, foreseeable risks to the health or safety of any person—

(a) carrying out or liable to be affected by construction work;

(b) maintaining or cleaning a structure, or

(c) using a structure designed as a workplace.

(4) In fulfilling the duties in paragraph (1), the principal designer must ensure all designers comply with their duties in regulation 9.

(5) In fulfilling the duty to coordinate health and safety matters in paragraph (1), the principal designer must ensure that all persons working in relation to the pre-construction phase cooperate with the client, the principal designer and each other.

(6) The principal designer must—

(a) assist the client in the provision of the pre-construction information required by regulation 4(4); and

(b) so far as it is within the principal designer’s control, provide pre-construction information, promptly and in a convenient form, to every designer and contractor appointed, or being considered for appointment, to the project.

(7) The principal designer must liaise with the principal contractor for the duration of the principal designer’s appointment and share with the principal contractor information relevant to the planning, management and monitoring of the construction phase and the coordination of health and safety matters during the construction phase.

Clients are responsible for appointing competent and adequately resourced designers and contractors (including Principal Contractors). Most clients, particularly those whose involvement with construction work is limited or non-existent, will not have the expertise necessary to assess the competency and resources of designers and contractors. A competent Principal will have this knowledge and expertise, and they should assist clients with these assessments.