Are you a principal designer?

Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) - What you need to know

Who is a principal designer?

A principal designer can be an organisation or individual who is appointed by the client (commercial or domestic) to take the lead in planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating health and safety during the pre-construction phase (design and planning stage) of a project involving, or likely to involve, more than one contractor.

A principal designer is the designer (as defined in the Regulations) with control over the pre-construction phase who has the relevant skills, knowledge and experience and where they are an organisation, the organisational capability to carry out all the functions of the role. However, they do not have to carry out actual design work on the project. 

Why is a principal designer important in ensuring construction is carried out in a way that avoids harm?

A principal designer has an important role in influencing how the risks to health and safety should be managed and incorporated into the wider management of a project.  Design decisions taken during the pre-construction phase can have a significant effect on whether a project is delivered in a way that secures health and safety. The principal designer's role involves close cooperation with the client and the principal contractor, and coordinating the work of others in the project team to ensure that significant and foreseeable risks are managed throughout the design process.

Which projects require appointment of a principal designer?

A principal designer must be appointed in writing by the client where a project involves, or is likely to involve, more than one contractor.

When should a principal designer be appointed?

The principal designer should be appointed by the client as early as possible in the design process, and where practicable, at the concept stage of the project.

How long should a principal designer be appointed for?

The duration of a principal designer's appointment should take into account any design work which may continue into the construction phase or any issues that may arise during construction involving the need to make suitable modifications to the designs. A principal designer should be in place for as long as there is a need for their role to be performed, but where their appointment finishes before the end of the project, they should fully brief the principal contractor on matters arising from designs relevant to any subsequent construction work, and also pass the health and safety file on to them.

What skills, knowledge and experience does a principal designer need to carry out their duties in a way that ensures health and safety?

A principal designer must be a designer as defined, and must be able to demonstrate they have the health and safety skills, knowledge and experience (SKE), and where they are an organisation, the organisational capability, to carry out the work they are being appointed for. The level of SKE should be proportionate to the complexity of the project and the range and nature of the risks involved. This will involve having:

  • the technical knowledge of the construction industry relevant to the project
  • the ability to understand, manage and coordinate the pre-construction phase (including ensuring that significant and foreseeable risks are managed through the design process) and any design work carried out after construction begins

Examples of demonstrating SKE might include:

  • records of continued professional development (CPD)
  • membership of professional institutions or bodies

Examples of demonstrating organisational capability might involve:

  • using pre-qualification assessment services from third party assessors, such as those who are members of Safety Schemes in Procurement Forum (SSIP)
  • self-assessing using the standard health and safety pre-qualification questions in Publicly Available Specification PAS 91

What you need to do

Guidance on what a principal designer needs to do to carry out their duties on both commercial and domestic projects under CDM 2015 is available on the roles and responsibilities of a principal designer page.

Is this page useful?