Responsibilities shift in H&S

Louise Hosking looks at the implications for schools of new regulations covering on-site safety during construction projects

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) come into force on 6 April 2015. This is going to affect all schools in control of their own building or property management.

CDM is not new. It is legislation which aims to reduce accidents during construction projects via good design, planning and co-operation. It specifies legal requirements for on-site safety and for welfare (e.g. toilets and rest areas). It recognises that the way a project is designed and managed can reduce risks to workers and those who use it.

The new legislation recognises that large construction sites are not where most people are being badly injured or killed. Of the 43 people who died on construction sites last year, three-quarters of these were working on smaller projects. Another large proportion of those killed were new, in their first weeks of employment. As we move out of recession many more workers are likely to be in this position. 

Duty holders

Clients – most non-community schools will be the client for any project work because they commission it, choose contractors and initiate the work. The local authority could be the client for community schools if they decide what will be built and how. The client is at the top of the supply chain. They are expected to take a greater role in setting standards and ensuring risks to health, safety and welfare are adequately managed.

Contractor – manages or controls construction work. If there is only one contractor, they must produce a construction-phase H&S plan before the project starts, which describes how site arrangements and on-site safety will be organised. This is like a safety policy for on-site operations.

Principal contractor (PC) – must be appointed by the client where there is more than one contractor. They coordinate all contractors and produce the construction-phase H&S plan. They must ensure operatives are inducted and consult with their staff.

Designer – prepares drawings, decides on design, prepares bills of quantity, specifies materials, proposes structural changes. Another duty holder can also be a designer if they do any of these.

Principal designer (PD) – must be appointed by the client where there is more than one contractor. They are responsible for ensuring a H&S file is prepared during the project and presented to the client at the end. They coordinate other designers and are responsible for overseeing H&S on the project. If they issue a direction to a contractor it must be followed.

The health and safety file contains information on how the project was completed. It includes “as built” drawings, specifications of materials used and operational and maintenance manuals.

All duty holders have a general responsibility to cooperate with each other and appoint people with the skills, knowledge and experience to perform their duties.

The CDM-C role no longer exists and has largely been split between the client and PD. There are some transitional arrangements within the regulations until 6 October 2015 where projects have already begun and the CDM-C appointed.

Schools must ensure they understand their responsibilities fully and should definitely assign a decision maker to be involved at regular project meetings.

Under Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 employers should engage the services of competent people to assist with their duties if they require support. Schools may therefore require independent guidance to ensure they have the right processes in place to manage their responsibilities until they are familiar with what is required. 

Application – definition of construction work

The regulations define this as construction, alteration, conversion, fitting out, commissioning, renovation, repair, upkeep, redecoration or other maintenance (including cleaning under pressure or involving toxic/hazardous substances). It also includes work on mechanical and electrical services.

At the workshops I have attended the suggestion is that it would apply to any non-routine project work outside standard planned maintenance by term contractors. This being said, the advice Hosking Associates are issuing is to align all contractor management arrangements with this legislation as new contracts are entered into or as part of a rolling programme for all term contractor work. 

The client 

The client is now expected to take a greater role in setting standards and ensuring risks to health, safety and welfare are adequately managed.

It is a good idea for the school to assign the responsibility of liaising with the project team to someone who already understands schools maintenance and facilities management.

Client duties are to: 

• ensure sufficient time and resources are applied to the project

• as all other duty holders: to report on hazards they become aware of

• ensure work can be undertaken without risks to the health and safety of those involved or others who might be affected (e.g. pupils, visitors and school staff)

• if more than one contractor is likely to be required, appoint a principal designer and principal contractor

• ensure welfare facilities are provided that meet CDM2015 standards for workers

• ensure arrangements are maintained are reviewed throughout the project to ensure expected standards are being met by, for example, requesting site safety checks be undertaken by the PC

• ensure the project is notified to the HSE if the notification criteria is met

• ensure a construction phase plan has been created before the work starts on site. This must now be provided by the (principal) contractor for every project.

• provide pre-construction information as soon as the designer is appointed

• ensure the health and safety file is issued by the principal designer at the end of the project. This should be created from the start and develop. It must be kept for the life of the building and be available to use by contractors in the future

• ensure the principal designer complies with their duties

• ensure the principal contractor complies with their duties 

Clients who do not appoint a PD or PC when they should automatically take on these duties as well. 

Pre-construction hazard information 

The regulations specify that clients provide pre-construction information that the contractor(s) and designer(s) should be aware of. This is information that the client is either aware of or can reasonably obtain, for example, via a survey. Guidance suggests creating a client pack.

The client pack will include: 

• brief description of the project and why it is being commissioned, drafted in conjunction with the project team

• roles and responsibilities of the project team – named contacts, numbers and emails

• expectations, contained, for example, within school site rules. This may need to be extended for the purposes of expectations in respect of design especially where the work could influence future cleaning and maintenance

• property hazard information. Examples of information that will be required are:

• location of asbestos – in most cases a refurbishment/demolition survey would be required

• location of underground services or within the building

• location of any other toxic or harmful substances such as lead paint

• separation of school and construction work activities

• safe access / egress for deliveries and people

• restricted access areas

• any work at height issues including the location of fragile surfaces

• location of any confined spaces

• contaminated land

• if risk assessments have identified issues that can be dealt with at the time of the work, they should be included within the client pack. For example, this may be a good time to improve high-level access to plant and equipment

• any previous H&S file information or operation and maintenance manuals should be available

• expectations in respect of the H&S file – how it should be created and what it should contain/in what format 

Checking standards 

The regulations expressly state that the client must ensure the rest of the project team are doing what they should be and not engage a designer or contractor unless they know they have the skills, knowledge and experience to fulfil their duties. Because these organisations cannot check themselves, it means the client must now become more involved than perhaps they have been previously.

This embraces the spirit of the new regulations, which are placing responsibilities with those within the project team rather than an external CDM-C. They also recognise the client as having the greatest ability to influence how a project is run because they are at the top of the supply chain. Attendance at project meetings to ensure school site rules and agreed standards are being met will be more critical.

An expectation that the PC will have an inspection programme in place may have to be instigated, with information passed back to the project team.

It is common for clients to feel absolved of their responsibilities when they hire a project manager, but the new requirements are geared toward the client taking on their responsibilities more fully. It is difficult for clients to fulfil these requirements if they are unaware and in most cases construction and development projects are not an everyday occurrence. Therefore, the regulations state that the designer and contractor should not undertake work unless they are satisfied the client is aware of their duties. 


Previously, notification triggered certain other actions. This is not the case now as the regulations apply to all construction projects. The criteria has changed slightly.

Notification is required if: 

• the project lasts longer than 30 days AND there is likely to be 20 people on site simultaneously or

• exceeds 500 person-days. 

Notification is online to the HSE and must be undertaken by the client.

The 500 person-days is therefore now more critical than it used to. As a rough guide, a project involving five workers on site for five and a half days per week will be notifiable if it last longer than four and a half months.

A copy of the notification has to be displayed where those working on the project can see it, such as in the site office. 

Key issues 

1 A construction phase plan is required on every project.

2 A complete health and safety file must be presented at the end by the PD if more than two contractors have been engaged.

3 Choose contractors and designers carefully. They should be aware of these changes and be able to discuss confidently with you what they mean and how they will fulfil their duties.

4 Contractor(s) should be capable of providing the necessary documentation required both during and at the end of the project so question them regarding this.

5 From 6 April CDM standards apply for all projects. A key area often neglected is welfare arrangements. A portaloo in the car park should be considered a last resort. Workers must have access to hot and cold or warm running water for washing and there should be somewhere to go where they can eat, boil a kettle and take a break in the warm. The regulations expect clients to be aware of the facilities provided.

6 The principal designer may make decisions regarding design which will allow construction to proceed more safely or enable the school to be used, cleaned and accessed more safely in the future. These decisions may cost more now but could save money in the future.

7 Schools may know a lot about its buildings and history. Your contractor and designer must take time at the start to determine any hazards that could affect the build, such as lead paint, asbestos or the location of utilities. Work with them on this if you can, and if you have information, pass it to them.

8 There has been very little coverage of these regulations and duty holders may not be aware of the changes. Meeting compliance is potentially going to cost more so an allowance may have to be made to ensure that documentation and site standards are met.

9 However, compliance also means a better organised project. Therefore, risks (including financial ones) are better managed, there are potentially fewer surprises and incidents are less likely.

Enforcement and consequences of non-compliance

The HSE enforce these legal requirements. As they involve a significant change in how most contractors and designers work, it is likely they will be visiting smaller sites more routinely.

Ultimately health and safety offences that lead to death or significant personal harm can result in unlimited fines and imprisonment for those concerned.

In addition, the HSE operate a scheme called Fees for Intervention (FFI). If they arrive at a site and identify a material breach (for example, no construction-phase plan or inadequate welfare arrangements), they will charge £124 per hour for the time they spend resolving the issue.

In the last quarter of 2014 the HSE made over £1.7million in FFI recovered fees. The average invoice was £613.70 and 990 invoices were issued in the construction sector.

Although these costs will likely be against the contractor or designer, there may be a significant relationship breakdown if clients have refused to accept some of the additional costs that these requirements bring with them. 


Simple projects require proportionate information but some documentation will definitely be required and the health and safety file must be provided at the end of every project where there has been more than two contractors involved. 

Louise Hosking is a director at Hosking Associates Ltd W:


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