CDM Coordinators to be axed


It would be remiss of us to avoid covering the very important construction safety legislation issues that are currently being debated and are about to be subject to significant change.

We refer of course to the HSE proposals about Construction Design & Management (CDM), the system that has governed all significant building projects since 2007. The key elements are:

  • The removal of the Approved Code of Practice (ACOP), which they intended to replace by a suite of guidance notes
  • The scrapping of CDM Co-ordinators

Now, as a major supplier of CDM Co-ordinators to the industry, McCormack Benson Health & Safety has to declare its interest and recognise that the firm is not exactly impartial. Nevertheless, we have a view and a commitment to the continuing safety of workers in construction, and we would like this to be expressed.

HSE feels that the CDM Coordinator role does not work as intended: that it adds bureaucracy and cost. Ordinarily, we would have no problem with any proposed reduction in red tape.  But it may not be as simple as that, as we shall see.

EU legislation issue

There is an ongoing need to have safety coordination before a project starts, as required by the EU Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive. Thus HSE proposes a new pre-construction replacement role, to be filled by the project’s designer/architect: the so-called Principal Designer.

Originally, HSE had hoped to keep things simple by just copying out this EU Directive, but it is two decades old and is capable of differing interpretations. A working group of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) concluded that the proposal failed “to ensure that revised regulations are clear, adequately define requirements and are more precise”.

HSE is under an obligation laid down by Government that each new initiative shall reduce costs. It has produced figures to suggest that by removing paid-for independent safety consultants in the role of CDM Coordinators, it saves the industry money. The feedback has pointed out that architects and designers charge considerably higher hourly rates than health & safety consultant firms, whether the designers carry out the safety planning requirements in-house or (as many are expected to do) they subcontract the work to safety consultants and then add a mark up. 82% of respondents disagreed with HSE’s savings estimates.

What of the construction phase itself? Well, here the health and safety co-ordination becomes the sole responsibility of the Principal Contractor. This is a less controversial proposal.

One of the most attractive elements of the draft proposals is the reduction in notifiable commercial building schemes:


>30 days duration OR >300 person/days


>30 days duration AND >20 workers operating simultaneously

It had been expected that there would be an exemption for self-managed domestic schemes but this hope has been dashed. All house projects are now caught by the proposed regulations, if they are of a sufficient size. So the reduction in notifiable commercial projects – claimed to be nearly 50% – will be mitigated by an unknown number of newly-notifiable domestic projects. HSE counters by suggesting that notification does not present a big burden to contractors. Some may disagree.

HSE is not proposing substantial changes to the detailed physical project requirements in the regulations, believing them to be satisfactory at present.

Temporary structures sector incensed

The sector responsible for erecting temporary structures for entertainment – from domestic hirings to major events – is incensed by the perceived threat of much greater legislation at the smaller end. All domestic installations may be required to be notified and could become subject to new bureaucracy. Hence the huge response from this sector (more than 400 out of the 1427 total). HSE’s response demonstrates shock at such a result – they characterise it as a ‘campaign’. But does that make it wrong? They make out that this sector was not their target – but the following are HSE’s actual words: they refer to:

ongoing discussions between HSE and this sector about the legal framework in which it manages risks from construction and dismantling of temporary demountable structures such as grandstands. HSE cannot disapply CDM to such work and is not proposing any changes to CDM which specifically bear on the entertainment sector. Nonetheless, HSE has acknowledged the difficulties which the entertainment sector faces in applying CDM to minor construction work and will continue to work with the sector to take a proportionate approach to managing risks within the sector.

Clearly they now recognise that this part of their proposals may need a rethink.

ACOP reprieve?

As regards ACOP, there has also been something of a storm of protest about its removal in favour of ‘tailored guidance’. Many professionals feel that ACOP, whilst not perfect, has a role to play. Hence HSE has relented to the extent of saying that it will work on a “shorter, signposting” ACOP rather than abolition.

What did our fellow CDM Coordinators say? 75% were against the proposals, compared to an 81% positive rating from other respondents. Overall there was only a marginal 52% positive feedback. Whilst it is unsurprising that people whose role will be replaced are antagonistic, it is worth hearing the thoughts of the professionals who now occupy this role. They include:

  • Designers are unfamiliar with a safety design role
  • There is a lack of competence to take over the role
  • Only 31% of people thought the proposed designer duties would be effective

Bear in mind that while HSE pointed up the high profile of CDM Coordinators in the respondents, these are people who wear more than one hat. As McCormack Benson Health & Safety can vouch, you have to be a good safety consultant to carry out the role well. Note that 53% of all respondents were health and safety consultants; while 48% described themselves as Health & Safety Professionals, which will have included many in-house safety managers. This, and the high overall response, demonstrates the depth of feeling over these issues.

The plan now is to get the new regime in place by April 2015. It remains to be seen what final form it will take, but there may well be further changes as HSE has probably been startled by the wealth of responses and the criticisms that have emerged from expert practitioners in the construction safety field.

Tagged with: