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Construction health and safety reimagined

19 June 2015

The arrival of CDM 2015 hails more than just regulatory reform – the real shift in the way we manage construction health and safety is a behavioural one. iHasco’s Abigail Pears explores what CDM means for construction workflows.

April this year finally saw the arrival of the 2015 Construction Design Management regulations, following a much anticipated review of CDM 2007. With a revised ACoP still in the pipeline, the industry’s reaction to this legislative reform has been primarily an anxious one: ‘What do we mean when we talk about the new ‘principal designer’ role?; ‘What’s happening with the retraction of the CDM-C?’; ‘What do I need to do differently now to ensure legal compliance?’

With residual confusion about the last incarnation of CDM regs – particularly for SMEs, which remain responsible for over 60% of all fatal site accidents – you can’t blame people for asking the obvious questions. However, upon closer inspection it’s actually very difficult to sensibly separate the ‘what’ from the ‘why’ when we’re talking about CDM.

"A lot of people are stating what the regulations are without actually addressing the underlying behavioural change,” noted Simon Toseland, compliance director of Salisbury Group. "CDM isn’t about perpetuating an attitude of box ticking, it’s about trying to bring the disparate components of health and safety law (be that Working at Height, CoSHH, Asbestos etc) together in an intelligent, managed process that considers appropriate health and safety throughout the entire lifecycle of a built asset, both in terms of safety and occupational health.”

In layman’s terms, the changes laid out by CDM15 are relatively simple: The project notification threshold has been lowered; the CDM-C has given way to a new ‘principal designer’ role in an effort to involve health and safety considerations right from the design stage; and a renewed onus is placed on the client to take lead responsibility for ensuring project health and safety. This drive for greater client ownership is applicable to projects of all sizes: "Whether you’re talking about changing a lightbulb, or building a new £60million structure, we just want it done safely,” Simon continued. "Ultimately if your project is being well managed now, then the arrival of CDM15 doesn’t mean you necessarily need to be doing any more than you currently are. The philosophy here hasn’t changed from 1994, we want good health and safety on projects; we want people to be thinking about the important stuff right from the go and that was exactly what was intended when the first regs came into force.”

So whilst some of the semantics might have changed, the end goal certainly hasn’t. "Really we’re pushing for the uptake of the idea that H&S is a core component of good project management – not just a bureaucratic add on. As we go forward, we want to ensure project success is considered in terms of all the necessary KPIs: programme, cost, safety and quality – at the moment, we’re too much focused on cost and programme, and not enough on integrating safety.”

CDM15 gives us a legal foundation upon which to begin building better construction health and safety practice, but legislation alone is by no means the complete picture: The client is still required to exercise judgement regarding the relevant skills, knowledge and experience of the individuals to which they assign key project roles, as well as sourcing any necessary training. The function of CDM is not to dictate how assessments or training should be conducted – it’s about making sure health and safety considerations are present from project inception, and that any necessary training and information is integrated and communicated effectively.

"The aim is for well managed projects – with people getting the information they need, the right people doing the job, the right programme – all thought about in advance,” observed Simon, "and education has a big part to play.” Indeed, if we are striving for truly effective collaboration in construction health and safety then consultants and training providers alike also have a duty to help clients understand their project needs: Whether in the guise of providing consultative advice, adapting off-the-shelf learning to suit specific project remits, or urging project owners to reimagine the ways in which they communicate health and safety information to their teams (using signs and symbols to represent health and safety risks on paper plans, for example, rather than confining information to previously unused back room safety files).

In a modern project environment, CDM15 asks us to adapt our projects to accommodate proportionate, intelligent health and safety measures – be that within digital workflows, or more traditional methods – in whatever way works best for individual projects; crucially, as long as it does work. We can’t expect laws to lead the way, or be exhaustive in their instruction about how to make our workflows better – the real change required is in our attitudes towards health and safety, and how fully we commit to the cause of building truly collaborative, safe project environments.