What is a Principal Designer and what is their role?


In April 2015, the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM Regulations) were updated to enhance health and safety issues during a development project. As a result of these changes, a new role, that of Principal Designer (PD) was created. We look at what they do and why it is important.

What is a Principal Designer?

Health and safety is of primary concern during any construction or development project. Without it, those who build, use or maintain structures are at risk. When the CDM Regulations were changed the PD took on full responsibility for CDM during the design phase of a project, as opposed to previously when the role was ‘contracted out’ to an individual who was not fully involved and, therefore, had little say in the design. Under the new rules, PDs have full responsibility for co-ordinating health and safety in the pre-construction phase of a project where there is more than one contractor.

PDs can be an individual (for smaller projects) or part of a larger organisation, and are appointed by the clients. They play a vital role in assessing how health and safety risks can be managed during a development. The decisions they take in the pre-construction phase make a significant impact on the project and ensure that health and safety are paramount throughout the process. PDs are usually architects or project managers and, therefore, have the technical capabilities, experience and understanding to combine their roles during the project.

What does a Principal Designer do?

The PD’s role begins before the construction project has even started. They work alongside the client and the principal contractor and are responsible for planning, managing and co-ordinating health and safety at design stage to identify, eliminate and control any potential risks. They must consider any pre-construction information which is available, such as a pre-existing health and safety file, and offer relevant information to both designers and contractors to enable them to carry out their duties correctly.

The role is very much focused on prevention and seeks to reduce, control and eliminate any possible health and safety risks, in an atmosphere of co-operation and co-ordination. It is their responsibility to ensure that the designers who are being used for a project, possess the correct skills and have sufficient experience in order for them to be able to carry out the work.

For small-scale domestic development projects a PD’s role may be carried out by either the principal contractor or the designer responsible for the pre-construction phase. On larger projects, a PD can appoint a Health and Safety specialist to assist them in performing their duties.

The importance of a Principal Designer’s role cannot be underestimated and should never be omitted from a development project. Like all aspects of health and safety legislation, it is intended to ensure that everyone involved in construction stays safe during the course of their work.

For advice and information on any aspect of building projects, contact a member of our team.


Written by: Joseph Fitzsimmons on Monday 15/08/2016