Will the Government make a disastrous mistake?

The Government has asked various departments to make financial savings, cut out waste and unnecessary bureaucracy in addition to targeting senseless health and safety rules. Much of these objectives are to be applauded. However it would be a mistake to follow the current proposals recently outlined by the Chief Inspector of Construction at the Health and Safety Executive and in particular the role of the CDM Co-ordinator.

The Health and Safety Executive announced last week that it intends to redraft the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 with a view to basing the new regulations more closely on the requirements of the EU Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive. Details are due to be presented to the Health and Safety Executive Board in December 2012, with a public consultation in 2013 and a target for introducing the new CDM Regulations in 2014.

Philip White, The HSE Chief Inspector of Construction has outlined the proposed changes to address some of the perceived failings within the existing Regulations. Whilst some of these would appear to represent positive steps forward in the reduction of unnecessary bureaucracy, it would appear that many of the proposed changes would result in a significant retrograde step in health and safety within the construction industry.

It is important to start by acknowledging the influence that the CDM Regulations have made in the reduction of deaths within the construction industry since their introduction in 1994. Whilst there are some aspects of the existing regulations that may be seen as bureaucratic, other aspects of the regulations have resulted important advancements in design and management across the construction industry, and the overall effect of the regulations cannot be ignored - the rate of fatal injuries to workers in construction has fallen by 47% since the 1999/2000 baseline and by over 60% since 1994.

The EU Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive.

One of the fundamental reasons for the review of the CDM Regulations 2007 is the fact that the existing regulations do not conform to the full requirements of the EU Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive (TMCS). In areas such as competence the 2007 CDM Regulations "gold plate" the requirements, but in other areas the CDM Regulations do not comply fully with the requirements - most notably by not imposing duties on owner-occupiers of residential properties. There are many deaths and serious injuries on construction projects taking place in residential properties where the owners do not have duties to ensure for instance that the contractors are competent and produce and adhere to a comprehensive Construction Phase Plan.

Clearly any review of the regulations would need to address the issue of compliance with the Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive, but an intelligent approach that takes into account the workings of the UK's construction industry is required, rather than the governments desired approach of simply copying out the TMCS and applying it to UK law. The UK's "gold plating" of the EU Directive saves many lives and serious injuries.

The Role of the CDM Co-ordinator

The CDM Regulations were originally introduced in 1994 and created the role of Planning Supervisor. The Regulations were then redrafted in 2007 and these changed the Planning Supervisor's role into the current role of the CDM Co-ordinator that is a familiar part of the construction industry today. The regulations placed significant responsibilities on the Client in relation to safety, but created the CDM Co-ordinator in recognition of the fact that many Clients know little about construction or health and safety. The decision to create a dedicated role for health and safety within the design team, (rather than to leave the co-ordination role with the designers), was made in part because of the refusal of many designers to recognise their responsibility for health and safety in construction. This important step forward in the management arrangements for construction works now appears to be under threat. It would be foolhardy to change or reduce the role of the independent CDM Coordinator just as it is proving to be so effective.

It appears that the HSE would prefer an approach whereby the function of the CDM Co-ordinator is fulfilled by the Lead Designer in the pre-construction phase, and by the Principal Contractor in the construction phase.

If the role is performed by the Lead Designer a conflict of interest is apparent, and the requirements of CDM are likely to be suppressed due to the influence of other factors such as aesthetics, BREEAM, planning, programme, cost, relationship with the client, etc., resulting in issues such as buildability and on-going maintenance considerations being marginalised. Impractical features of the design should be brought to light by an independent member of the design team: the CDM Co-ordinator. The lead designer simply has too many other things to think about, and safety is too important a factor to be amalgamated into other roles.

With respect to the construction phase the HSE appear to be failing to recognise that the design often continues to be developed throughout the construction phase. Without a CDM Co-ordinator engaged throughout the construction process, design changes can occur that have a direct impact on the health and safety of operatives on site and the personnel that will maintain, extend or refurbish the building sometime after initial completion. A simple example would be that the architect decides to relocate a piece of plant onto the roof to increase the usable space inside, without considering how access will be provided. The Principal Contractor's primary role should include the planning and day-to-day management of safety on site, and not the responsibility for ensuring the safe co-ordination of design of the building.

The CDM Co-ordinator role should be independent of other disciplines and they should be involved from the outset of the design process right through to the handover of the H&S File.

Bureaucracy

A significant area of concern within the construction industry is the level of bureaucracy particularly with respect to competence assessments of all members of the design team as well as of the principal contractor. This is seen as one of the major failing of the existing regulations and competence is an area of the TMCS that is seen as being "gold plated". However competence together with adequate resources of the entire team has a significant bearing on safe construction and future maintenance of every building.

The SSIP scheme has gone some way to simplifying the competency assessment and thus the amount of bureaucracy . Many contractors have already signed up, eliminating the necessity for them to fill out questionnaires for every project. It is also allows CDM Co-ordinators to focus on the contractors and designers experience with similar projects rather than carrying out a full assessment. The introduction of a single, co-ordinated, government backed scheme would eliminate the plethora of different schemes and would simplify and clarify the requirements for competence. Perhaps the requirements for membership of "Constructionline" could be enhanced thus providing a "one stop shop" for confirming competence.

Other paperwork could be streamlined and made more proportionate to the level of risk and complexity of a project. In terms of Pre-Construction Information documentation and Construction Phase Health and Safety Plan, many of these are poorly prepared and include irrelevant documentation. Any new regulations should strive to focus on the key project risks and reduce unnecessary generic information. The inclusion of irrelevant information often distracts contractors from the genuinely useful information and sometimes crucial reports and hazard identification information contained in both documents.

Conclusion

The timing of these changes is unfortunate when it is only recently that clients, designers and contractors have seriously engaged with CDM. It is important that any changes proposed by the HSE build on the successes of the existing legislation whilst remedying the perceived inadequacies, but as an industry we have worked hard to reduce the appalling rate of accidents in construction and we should not forget that the CDM Regulations have been an absolutely crucial part of this. We hope that during the consultation period common sense will prevail and the Government will not set the construction industry back 30 years in terms of the number of fatal and serious injuries. We owe it to the hardworking men and women working on construction sites to do all in our power to keep them from preventable and sometimes fatal accidents.

2 comment(s) for “Will the Government make a disastrous mistake?”

  1. David Harding Says:

    To have the Designer or contractor take on the role of the CDMC results in a conflict of interest for both. The role must remain impartial.The CDM C fee is minute in relation to project costs and it make no sense whatsoever to remove the position. Designers do not wish to take on the role and have enough to consider in their days work let alone a raft of H&S regulations.The govenment is simple trying to take the heat of themselves in respect of the daft incidents which is not Health and Safety it is commercial risk reduction imposed by insurance companies and blamed on Health and Safety. We are going back to the dark ages!!!

  2. Tim Hudson Says:

    I totally agree with your comments and would commend the above article as to being very hands on and true to how CDM actually is. I recently spoke to the HSE at a Temp Works initiative in Aintree and was shocked at the lack of awareness at HSE senior level on how effective CDM Co-ordinators can actually be when independent. The lip service brigade do no one any favours to the application of CDM and good health and safety management and perhaps the HSE should recognise the fact that they should have given the CDM-C's more teeth. Breaking down the role is over-complication and will lead to the very thing we all don't want poor communication and a significant lack of co-operation and co-ordination. Finally protecting the Clients interests - by transferring the CDM-C role over to the Contractor team please explain how this will then be achieved, its bad enough to leave it to designers many of which are still reluctant to be proactive in their health and safety design approach. As the writer stated we at last are denting the designers armoury and starting to develop awareness after years of hammering away only for a change which could take us back pre-1995. Regards
    Tim Hudson - CDM Co-ordinator /Civil Engineer

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