Health & Safety: the Clients’ role

Health and safety in construction is governed by the Construction, Design and Management Regulations (CDM). The Construction Design and Management regulations were updated in 2015 (CDM2015) with new regulations coming into force on 6 April 2015. Under the CDM2015 regulations, the client has a number of legally binding duties and failure to undertake these duties can result in criminal convictions. The following note outlines the main duties of a client in ensuring a safe building site.

What does CDM 2015 do?

Complying with CDM 2015 will help ensure that no-one is harmed during the work, and that your building is safe to use and maintain while giving you good value. Effective planning will also help ensure that your work is well managed with fewer unexpected costs and problems.

CDM 2015 applies to all building and construction work and includes new build, demolition, refurbishment, extensions, conversions, repair and maintenance. It applies to all sizes of project, equally.

CDM 2015 became law on 6 April 2015 with every project commencing after that date requiring to comply with it. Those projects where a CDM coordinator was already appointed prior to 6 April 2015 have until 5 October 2015 to make the appropriate appointments.

There are three main duty holders:

  • The client ensures that the construction project is set up so that it is carried out from start to finish in a way that adequately controls the risks to the health and safety of those who may be affected.
  • The principal designer manages health and safety in the pre-construction phase of a project. The role extends to the construction phase through the principal designer’s duties to liaise with the principal contractor and ongoing design work. In most cases this role is expected to be the lead designer (such as the architect) but could be undertaken by another professional who has control of the design, or the client themselves.
  • The principal contractor manages the construction phase of a project. This involves liaising with the client and principal designer throughout the project, including during the pre-construction phase
  • Depending upon the nature of the project, the principal designer and principal contractor may be supported by designers, contractors and workers.

Appointment stage

Where a project is likely to have more than one contractor involved (such as sub-contractors etc), the client must:

  • Issue a written, project specific brief explaining what you want from the project
  • Appoint a principal designer (in writing). If the client does not appoint a principal designer, their duties automatically fall to the client.
  • Ensure the principal designer has skills, knowledge and experience suitable for the project through reviewing examples of similar, previous work or by inclusion of a specialist advisor in their team.
  • Ensure that the principal designer has adequate resources and time to complete their job

In practice every construction and refurbishment project is likely to need a principal designer and the client needs to appoint them in writing.


John Gilbert Architects preference is to be principal designer on every project we are the lead consultant. This ensures a clear line of communication and responsibility.

John Gilbert Architects is suitably experienced to be principal designer on a wide range of projects, we are OHSAS:18001 accredited and our staff undertake regular health and safety training. We are building our internal expertise and where we are in any doubt, we employ a dedicated health and safety professional as an advisor. A summary of our relevant experience and that of our appointed CDM advisor (where relevant) is available on request.

We will provide you with a separate quote for our services as principal designer role which ensures adequate resources are available to undertake the work required. We ask that this quote is accepted in writing, if you wish to appoint us as principal designer.


Design stage

The client must:

  • check that the project team is adequately resourced
  • issue a project or client brief to the project team
  • provide the project team been provided with information about the existing site or structure (pre-construction information)?
  • ensure all health and safety advice is project-specific
  • ensure suitable arrangements in place to manage health and safety throughout the project
  • ensure a schedule of the key activities for the project, has been produced
  • allow sufficient time to complete the key activities
  • where required, the client must submit an online F10 notification form to HSE to notify them of commencement of work

As principal designer, we will manage this process and report back to you at each stage on CDM issues. We include reporting and risk assessment within each design team meeting agenda and our internal processes.


We can assist with information for the F10 notice and as principal designer we produce the pre-construction information document.


Appointing a principal contractor

A principal contractor is required to plan, manage and coordinate the construction work. Appoint them as early as possible so they are involved in discussions with the principal designer about the work. Getting the right people for the right job means your contractors need to have the skills, knowledge and experience to identify, reduce and manage health and safety risks. This is also the case if they are a company (known as having ‘organisational capability’ for the job).

The principal contractor must:

  • prepare a construction phase plan that demonstrates how the work can be carried out safely
  • plan, manage, monitor and coordinate the work on site to manage the health and safety risks
  • keep the site secure
  • provide welfare facilities throughout the construction phase
  • provide site indiction for all site workers and visitors
  • ensure workers are competent
  • ensure plant and equipment is safe
  • enable communication and cooperation
  • ensure first aid cover
  • liaise with the principal designer on any design issues or design changes
  • contribute to the health and safety file by contributing:
    • description of the works,
    • hazardous materials used or retained in the works,
    • information on removal or dismantling of installed plant and equipment
    • health and safety information on maintenance or cleaning of structures
    • location of buried services such as cables or gas pipes
    • as-built drawings

It is advisable to ensure the duty to provide information for the health and safety file is contained within the main contract prelims.


As principal designer we will take the contractor supplied information, produce the health and safety file and provide two paper copies for your records.


Notifying construction projects

For some construction work (work lasting longer than 30 days with more than 20 workers working at the same time, or involving 500 person days of work), you need to notify HSE of the project as soon as possible before construction work starts.


As principal designer we can provide you with information to enable you to  fill in the F10 notification form.


Protecting members of the public, including your employees

If you are an employer, or you have members of the public visiting your premises, you need to be sure that they are protected from the risks of construction work. Discuss with your designer and contractor how the construction work may affect the public, residents and your employees, eg you may have to re-route pedestrian access; make sure signs to your entrance are clear; or change the way your deliveries operate.

During construction

A client must:

  • ensure the construction phase plan is in place
  • ensure welfare facilities are in place
  • ensure the arrangements for managing the project are working
  • check the principal contractor is carrying out their duties
  • check completion and handover arrangements

At completion

A client must:

  • check  the health and safety file has been prepared by the principal designer (or principal contractor if the principal designer’s role has finished)
  • keep the health and safety file available for future work on the structure, and for any new owners.

As Principal Designer we would produce the health and safety file and provide two paper copies for your records.


Keep the health and safety file

At the end of the build the principal designer should give you a health and safety file. If the principal designer leaves before the end of the project, the principal contractor (or contractor if there is only one contractor) should do this. It is a record of useful information which will help you manage health and safety risks during any future maintenance, repair, construction work or demolition. You should keep the file, make it available to anyone who needs to alter or maintain the building, and update it if circumstances change.

More information

For more information see:

This briefing note was prepared with the assistance of CDM Scotland.

The information in this document was correct at the time of going to press on 24 September 2015. While every effort has been made to ensure that the information contained within this document is accurate, John Gilbert Architects makes no warranty, representation or undertaking whether expressed or implied, nor does it assume any legal liability, whether direct or indirect, or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information.