construction site

Health and safety people always LAGA (Love A Good Acronym), because it would probably take five times as long to say everything otherwise! Some of us like it too because it keeps us exclusive, but forgive us please – at least we don’t use loads of latin, like the lawyers do…

So before we start, let’s answer the obvious question first – what’s CDM then?

It’s short for the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (told you it was easier to just say CDM)! Anyway, names aside, the point of these regulations are to make sure all Construction projects are managed correctly, everyone involved talks to each other properly, hazards are identified early on and health and safety is built-in throughout the project.

Most people assume CDM just relates to large scale building projects, but that’s a mistake. I’ll guarantee you that CDM affects huge numbers of businesses who don’t even realise they need to be compliant. If that’s you, this lack of knowledge could put you at serious risk of fines and prosecution, which I’m sure you could do without.



So, here are the answers to twelve common questions that I get asked about CDM all the time:


1) What’s Covered Under ‘Construction’?

Construction isn’t just traditional large ‘brick and mortar’ builds. It covers so much more than you might think. It’s a long list, so take a deep breath and let’s dive in….

The legal CDM definition of Construction includes:

  • the building, alteration, fitting out, commissioning, renovation, repair, upkeep, redecoration, maintenance (including high pressure water or abrasives, or the use of corrosive or toxic substances), decommissioning, demolition and dismantling – all in relation to a structure
  • the preparation for an intended structure, covering site clearance, exploration investigation (but not survey) and excavation (but not archaeological)
  • the assembly of pre-fabricated elements intended to form a structure and the disassembly of prefabricated units which were a structure before dismantling
  • the installation, commissioning, maintenance, repair or removal of services or systems which are normally fixed within or to a structure, such as mechanical, electrical, gas, compressed air, hydraulic, telecoms, computer or any other similar systems

But it doesn’t include exploration or extraction of minerals or preparatory activities at a place where exploration or extraction is carried out – this list is a lot shorter…

Still with me? “Just about, Stu, but what the heck is a structure” I hear you shout?

Well, that’s a good question.

Another deep breath is required here – the CDM definition of a structure includes any (or any part of) timber, masonry, metal or reinforced concrete buildings; railway lines, tramway lines or sidings; docks, harbours or inland navigation systems; tunnels or shafts; bridges, viaducts or aqueducts; waterworks or reservoirs; pipes or pipelines; cable system; sewers or sewage works; gasholders; roads; airfields; sea defence works; river works, drainage works or earthworks; lagoons, dams or caissons; masts, towers or pylons; underground tanks; earth retaining structure; structures designed to preserve or alter natural features; fixed plant; formwork, falsework, scaffold or other structures designed or used to provide support or means of access during construction work; and anything else similar…

As you can see, it’s much more than traditional brick and mortar builds! The chances are that if you are in the building trades in any way, CDM is going to apply to you.


[ctt template=”3″ link=”u0Eak” via=”yes” ]Can’t I just ignore CDM and pretend I haven’t heard of it? Er, no…..[/ctt]


2) What are the ‘Phases’?

All Construction projects go through three distinct Phases, these are:

  • Pre-Construction – planning, design and Duty Holder selection
  • Construction – as soon as work starts on site
  • Post-Construction – as soon as work finishes on the site

Phases can overlap, and often do – some design adjustments might take place once the Construction Phase has already started for example.


3) What’s a ‘Duty Holder’?

There are six distinct Duty Holders under CDM and these all have LEGAL obligations attached to them. It’s possible that not all Duty Holders are needed, depending on the size of the project. It’s also possible for one organisation to cover more than one role, again depending on the size of the project. The six Duty Holders are the Client, the Principal Designer, the Designer, the Principal Contractor, the Contractor and the Worker.


4) What’s a ‘Client’?

This is the person or organisation commissioning the project and the one paying for it.

The Client could either be a Domestic Client (someone having building work done on their own house or a family members house) or a Commercial Client (pretty much anything else that isn’t Domestic).

Commercial Clients have several health and safety duties – they must:

  • Manage the overall health and safety of the project
  • Appoint the Duty Holders
  • Make sure there is sufficient time, resource and money to do things safely
  • Pass pre-construction safety information to other Duty Holders (this includes things like underground pipe / cable surveys, asbestos surveys and other relevant site information)
  • Make sure the Principal Designer and Principal Contractor are doing what they should be doing, and doing it safely
  • Make sure suitable welfare facilities are available on site

Domestic Clients technically have the same duties, but these are automatically passed to the Principal Contractor (because the average homeowner isn’t expected to know much about construction).

Domestic Clients can ask, in writing, to take on the full Client duties if they want to, but unless they are both construction and H&S experts, it’s a really, really bad idea – why would you accept a load of legal obligations that you don’t have to? As the saying goes, the buck would stop with you if things go wrong…


5) What’s a ‘Principal Designer’?

These guys are required for projects with more than two Contractors and they need to be either an individual or an organisation with enough knowledge, experience and ability to carry out the role.

They must be qualified as a ‘designer’ as well as having the right competencies for the project in question. For example, if they have only ever worked on garage extensions, they’re not the right person to build a block of flats… They also need to be suitably qualified in terms of H&S of course. This is why the Principal Designer is often an organisation of people with combined skills, rather than just one person.

It’s the Principal Designers job to:

  • manage the Pre-Construction Phase of the project
  • plan, manage, monitor and coordinate H&S during this phase by:
    • identifying and eliminating or controlling foreseeable risks
    • ensuring Designers carry out their duties (if any)
    • preparing and providing relevant information to other Duty Holders
    • liaising with the Principal Contractor to help in the planning, management and monitoring of H&S during the Construction Phase


6) What’s a ‘Designer’?

The Designer prepares or modifies designs for a building, project or system relating to construction work. These guys draw up the plans that the project team need to do the build.

Their job is to ‘design out’ as many H&S hazards and risks as possible during all three Phases. They also need to communicate all of this properly to everyone who needs to know it.


7) What’s a ‘Principal Contractor’?

These guys are responsible for the Construction Phase of any project where there is more than one Contractor. The vast majority of projects will have multiple Contractors of course – a bricklayer and an electrician – that’s two Contractors. A Plasterer and a carpet layer – two Contractors… you get the idea.


The Principal Contractor is appointed by the Client and is responsible for:

  • planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating H&S on site
  • liaise with the Client and Principal Designer
  • prepare the Construction Phase Plan
  • organise the various Contractors and make sure they co-operate
  • provide site inductions
  • prevent unauthorized site access
  • make sure the Workers are consulted and engaged on H&S
  • make sure welfare facilities are provided


8) Who are the ‘Contractors’?

Contractors are the organisations who engage or manage the Workers – although many of them might be sole traders or self employed people who work for themselves.

Contractors have to:

  • plan, manage and monitor construction work under their control
  • make sure work is carried out with no H&S risks
  • for projects with 2 or more Contractors – coordinate their work with all the other Contractors and follow instructions that the Principal Contractor and Principal Designer give them
  • for single contractor projects – prepare a Construction Phase Plan


9) Who are the ‘Workers’?

Last, but by no means least, these guys do all the construction work on site.

Workers still have legal duties of course – these are pretty much copied from the general employee duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act of 1974:

  • take care of their own H&S and of others who might be affected by their actions (colleagues, other contractors, the public and site visitors)
  • report anything they see which is likely to endanger their own or others H&S
  • cooperate with their employer, fellow workers, contractors and all Duty Holders


10) What Does ‘Notification’ Mean?

For some projects, you’re going to have to tell the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) that you’re planning to do some construction – if you don’t tell them, you break the law I’m afraid!

The good news is, Notification rules have been relaxed since the previous 2007 CDM Regulations and now only applies to projects that either:


Last longer than 30 working days (not necessarily consecutive AND have more than 20 Workers working simultaneously at any point


 Exceed 500 person days

It might sound like a good idea, but you can’t split projects into separate ‘mini projects’ to avoid the threshold I’m afraid!

You can tell the HSE about your project by filling in an F10 formeither online on the HSE website, or by post.

HSE F10 Form



11) What’s a Construction Phase Plan?

This is a folder that contains everything that anyone needs to know about the Construction Phase. It’s usually started during the Pre-Construction Phase, but kept up to date and held by the Principal Contractor. There should be a copy held on site of course – that’s where it’s needed.

Some examples of the things you might want to put in there include:

  • The drawings
  • Pre-Construction surveys (ground and asbestos etc.)
  • The build plan / schedule
  • Names and contact details of all the Contractors
  • Details about welfare facilities
  • Locations of the nearest emergency services
  • Training and induction records

This is required for all Construction projects, regardless of size, but obviously the size of the Plan needs to be related to the size of the project.

The Construction Phase Plan is supposed to be a live document and updated throughout the Construction Phase as and when things change.


12) What’s a Health and Safety File?

This document is what gets handed over to the Client once the project is finished and this document is the Principal Designers responsibility to create and maintain.

It’s only required however for projects that involved more than two Contractors, which as we’ve already seen, is most of them of course…

The Health and Safety File is intended to give the Client all the information they need to stay safe once the keys are handed over, so it needs to include things like:

  • residual hazards (that couldn’t be designed out)
  • maintenance and servicing
  • repair / replacement of parts
  • demolition

If the Principal Designers contract ends before the build does, which can happen sometimes, the Health and Safety File (and all associated legal responsibilities) passes to the Principal Contractor.



Another common question, which I haven’t included in the list (because frankly it’s a stupid one…) is Can’t I just ignore CDM and pretend I haven’t heard of it?. After a brief wry smile, I usually patiently explain that yes, you can, it’s your choice, but of course you run all kinds of risks if you do, such as:

  • injury and illness in your workers
  • personal injury claims
  • dissatisfied sub-contractors
  • dissatisfied customers
  • damage to your brand image
  • unwanted attention from the HSE, which includes:
    • Fee For Intervention charges, currently billed at £129 per hour for any ‘material breach’ they find on site (and their time includes all on-site, travel, investigation and office time)
    • Notices – Improvement or Prohibition Notices
    • Prosecution – fines (individual and corporate), imprisonment or community service orders for any Duty Holders found guilty

So there you go, a short round-up of the 2015 CDM Regulations. There is of course a lot more detail behind what’s written above and it can all be a little overwhelming, so if you want to ask a question, post a comment below or drop me an e-mail.


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Stuart Haysman

Director, Haysman Consulting Limited

Chartered Safety and Health Practitioner