Appointing a Principal Designer


On 6 April 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM) came into force, replacing CDM 2007. These are the current, primary regulations for managing the health, safety and welfare of construction projects. They apply to all building and construction work, including new build, demolition, refurbishment, extensions, conversions, repair and maintenance.

CDM 2007 previously defined legal duties for the safe operation of UK construction sites. CDM 2015, which replaced these rather complex rules, were primarily drawn up to simplify layers of red tape and confusing procedures, ensuring the right people were appointed at the right time.

Even though CDM 2015 was introduced nearly three years ago, we’re often asked when/if a Principal Designer – a role created by these regulations – should be appointed.

What is a Principal Designer (PD)?

A Principal Designer is an organisation or individual appointed by the client to take the lead in planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating health and safety during the pre-construction phase of a project involving more than one contractor.

The PD should have a detailed knowledge of the construction works they are designing and a clear understanding of managing the pre-construction and design phases before the works begin.

When should you appoint one?

At the earliest opportunity. Ideally, the PD should be involved before work begins on-site, as it is their overall responsibility for health and safety during the project’s planning stages.

A PD must be appointed on all construction projects with more than one contractor. As the regulations state, “Where there is more than one contractor, or if it is reasonably foreseeable that more than one contractor will be working on a project at any time”.

So, it’s clear; decide from the outset if it is likely you will need more than one contractor. For example, if your contractor uses subcontractors such as plumbers or electricians, that will be classed as more than one contractor. Most projects require expertise from different trades, so you will likely need a PD in place.

Notably, the regulations apply to both domestic and commercial projects. Note: If the client does not appoint a PD on commercial projects, they automatically become the Principal Designer. They are responsible for all the duties and requirements involved in the role.

A PD is also required for non-notifiable projects (those under 30 days or 500 person-days duration), so the appointment of a Principal Designer will be required on smaller, not just large-scale commercial projects.


If you only have one contractor involved for the duration of the contract and they do not use any subcontractors, you don’t need to appoint a Principal Designer.

What does a PD do?

It’s the Principal Designer’s responsibility to work with the client and principal contractor to determine how the risks to health and safety should be managed and how these should be incorporated into the management of a project.

During the pre-construction phase, decisions about the design can impact health and safety. The PD’s role involves coordinating the work of those in the project team to make sure all significant and foreseeable risks are managed and documented throughout the design process.

Once the risks have been identified, the principal designer must ensure the design team eliminates, reduces and controls them as far as possible. In addition, they must provide everyone involved in the pre-construction phase co-operates and communicates effectively.

Finally, the principal designer should arrange for the health and safety file handover to the main contractor and make them aware of any issues that may need to be considered.

For further guidance or help with your project or the role of a Principal Designer, please get in touch.


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