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Design regs add value and save lives

AGENDA - The CDM review is good for business, writes James Forbes

BIGGER fines and increased development costs are likely outcomes of a review by the Health and Safety Executive into the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994.

The HSE ? 10 years after the current CDM regulations were introduced ? is not impressed with the safety elements included in design. While the British construction industry has one of the best safety records in the world, the HSE is concerned at a levelling-off of the drop in accidents in recent years ? 2002 was a particularly bad example, with 80 fatal accidents (or almost seven a month).

The review has so far taken the form of a consultation process, which ended in July, with any changes scheduled to come into force in October next year.

The proposals already contain one major change ? the replacement of a planning supervisor with a planning co-ordinator on all but the smallest commercial construction projects. Effectively this means the HSE wants to see more emphasis being given to safety at the design stage.

Currently, the supervisor gathers information from all the professionals involved but is not part of the design team. The proposed co-ordinator, who is likely to be more qualified than a supervisor, will be a key member of the design team and be expected to ensure safety is designed in to a project from the start. But it means greater responsibilities for all: architects, for example, will have to highlight project-specific hazards rather than issue general warnings.

Also, clients of contractors will be required to prepare a clear design brief with a full indication of the end use to help designers work towards a safer building ? which includes making checks to ensure all duty-holders have the necessary competency to discharge their respective duties. Clients who cannot demonstrate an audit trail may find the hand of responsibility resting on their shoulders.

The regulations will not end at construction site safety but will also apply to the health and well being of operatives once projects are completed. Sometimes the worst hazards do not become apparent until a project has been completed and the contractors have gone home.

Recently the owners of a new building were served with an improvement notice by the HSE as soon as it opened because the designer had not provided a safe way of cleaning the building's atrium.

Inevitably, tighter regulations will have an upward effect on design (and, by implication) construction costs. Also, professional indemnity insurance will become more expensive and, in some cases, more difficult to obtain. But with many accidents believed to be at least partly down to safety f laws in design, the new rules will make construction sites safer ? and who can put a price on a human life?

Even the additional up-front costs need to be put into perspective. The installation of a design co-ordinator could make a construction project not only safer but more efficient as well, in terms of getting everything ? and not just safety aspects ? right from day one. This will lead to savings that could outweigh the costs of adhering to the regulations.

Critics will no doubt see the outcome as just more regulatory baggage for an already over-burdened construction industry. But this is one development that may have something for everyone ? not just the guys in hard hats but also the property financiers who may come to see that greater safety in design will actually add value to the investment.

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