Principal Designers – Roles & Responsibilities

Principal designers

Our guide talks you through the role of a principal designer and what it entails and what you can expect from our service. With the introduction of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations in 2015, the role of principal designer was introduced and is one that you need to have in all construction projects where more than one contractor is appointed. We want to make sure you understand why the role has been introduced and what as principal designer we will be doing on your construction projects.

Who can be a principal designer?

Although this might seem like a simple question, it is not always obvious who has the capability to be the principal designer. On larger projects the principal designer will usually be an organisation that undertakes principal designer duties. For smaller projects it could be an individual that takes on the role of a principal designer. Principal designers, whether individuals or organisations, must have design process knowledge and be effective in design decisions as far as health and safety is concerned. Whoever the principal designer is they should have;

  • An understanding of how health and safety is managed in the process of design
  • Good technical knowledge of the construction industry that is suited to the project
  • Skills to oversee the pre-construction phase of a project and ongoing design
  • Have the duty, to plan, manage, monitor and coordinate design throughout

Responsibilities of a principal designer

There are three main roles in the management of health and safety on a construction project. The client has overall responsibility for making suitable arrangements for managing a project, while the principal designer and the principal contractor must plan, manage, monitor and coordinate the construction elements of the project. They are all important roles to ensuring health and safety on site and avoiding any accidents. A principal designer must be appointed in writing by the client and this role can also be combine with other roles such as project manager.

As Principal Designer we will;

  • Assist the client to identify, obtain and collate all of the pre-construction information
  • Give pre-construction information to designers, principal contractors
  • Make sure that designers comply with their duties and co-operate
  • Liaise with principal contractor for the duration of our appointment
  • Prepare a health and safety file

What you’ll learn from the rest of this guide

We want to provide you with a complete understanding of our role as principal designer. The position is important in making sure that health and safety risks in design are communicated to the construction team. It is therefore hugely important that all aspects of the role are carried out properly to ensure the safety of all. Aside from the immediate impact of the physical injury to employees, it can also prove costly for business if you have employees off work for long periods with injuries or ill health. We will look at what you can expect from our role;

  • Tasks a principal designer can expect to do
  • Information required for the project
  • What a good result should look like

Tasks you can expect a principal designer to do on a project

A principal designer has the responsibility of managing the health and safety matters in design of a site during the pre-construction phase. One of the first tasks that as principal designers we will need to help with is the project set-up. Assisting with the project set-up is essential to make sure the right health and safety arrangements are in place from the start. Will want to find out how much as the client you know about this type of project and your previous experience. We can help you as the client to create an initial brief if you don’t have previous experience in the area.

Although as the client you are required to identify and obtain pre-construction information, you may need us to assist you in doing this and collating the information so that it can be passed to the designers, principal contractor and specialist contractors during the various phases. This helps us to ensures that the correct health and safety precautions are in place from the start, we will need;

Pre-construction information – checks that should be made

  • Is the information reliable?
  • Where has the information come from?
  • How old is the information and is it outdated?
  • Is the information relevant or has it been superseded by subsequent works?
  • Could a site visit help to confirm the accuracy of the information?
  • Is the information complete or is there something missing?
  • Do you need to undertake further studies?

These are the questions that we will be asking during the pre-construction phase to make sure that you have all of the necessary information you need to complete the job. We will also agree with you as the client and project team when updates will be undertaken and who needs that information. For example, the developing pre-construction information will be needed by many in order to ensure information flow and risks are managed and arrangements coordinated.

Oversee the pre-construction phase and co-ordinate the process

Another task that we undertake during the planning process is making sure that we plan, manage and oversee the pre-construction phase and co-ordinate matters relating to health and safety. As principal designer take the responsibility to make sure we co-ordinate health and safety with all designers that are part of the project team. This includes the likes of temporary work designers and anyone else who has design responsibilities on the project in any way. We tell designers what you expect from them so that all aspects of the project are covered. By making sure that effective co-ordination happens we can identify and advise others of any potential health and safety risks during the full project cycle.

Also, as principal designer we plan, manage and oversee health and safety related design decisions during the pre-construction phase but not other aspects of the design process. As a principal designer we will not consider non health and safety matters during the design development phase. We make sure that we are focusing our attention on any areas where there is a significant risk to health and safety in the project. This includes things like changes or alterations to the original design, which we achieve by holding and leading design review meetings. We challenge designers on aspects of the design we are not clear of and obtain assistance should we not have the technical knowledge or experience about some aspects of the design.

Information required for the project

We should receive all available information relating to health and safety from the client at the start of the project to make sure we have everything to consider what further information will be required. We will call for more information at different phases of the project so that you can make sure risks are identified, eliminated where possible and residual risks are advised to others. As principal designer we need to be given information at the project set-up, before you start work.

Appointment as Principal Designer

We will require appointment as Principal Designer in writing, and this should also outline our scope of services to others. The initial client brief should set out the functional and operational requirements but it should also highlight their health and safety expectations. There is certain information we will require but also certain information we will provide.

Information required by the principal designer

  • We will need to be informed of any issues or health and safety concerns in the content of the client brief or any other existing information
  • Designers must provide us with health and safety information relating to their design including any unusual remaining risks and details
  • As principal designer will also need details about the design information for the health and safety file, that would be required for the post-construction phase
  • We will also provide feedback on the pre-construction information you are provided with to ensure that it complies with CDM
  • The principal contractor will need to provide construction information that includes any changes to the original designs, which is required for operation and maintenance

Information we will provide

  • We will provide the client with our proposal at the project set-up that outlines the scope of our role and how we intend to fulfil it
  • Part of our role is to provide advice to the client about the information required for the preconstruction information and focus on any gaps in the available information
  • As part of our role we will provide information to all the designers that may include the client brief for the project and any specifications or minimum standards
  • We will share the information of the client with the designers as part of your coordination role
  • We will inform the designers of your expectations with regards to how the preconstruction phase should be carried out
  • We will update the client on the progress of the pre-construction phase such as the status of information gathering and development of the design
  • During the pre-construction phase we will provide the pre-construction information to the principal contractor that will be used to prepare the construction phase plan

As the principal designer we will provide significant information relating to hazards and risks both in the pre-construction period and also during the actual construction phase. This is to ensure that all aspects of health and safety have been identified and communicated. The role requires an effective level of co-ordination and this includes during the completion and handover phase of the project.

What does a good result look like?

In conclusion we want to give you some examples of what good practice is and what we will look to deliver on a project. The following examples are not what is required by CDM regulations but rather illustrate how the work will ideally be carried out. By following these steps, we will be able to provide a high level of service. It also illustrates how as principal designer we can contribute to the success of a project.

Good examples of work assisting with the project set-up

  • We will provide the client with a schedule as soon as we have been appointed with a detailed schedule of resources and services to help plan the design process
  • Managing the health and safety aspects of a project will prove much easier by developing a good working relationship with the client
  • Making sure that we understand the brief from the start will help give us further insight into the clients requirements
  • We will clarify the roles of individuals on the project to make sure that confusion is avoided and allows parties to distinguish between different roles
  • Leadership is an important aspect of the project and we will encourage project team meetings. This will also allow everyone to discuss and solve health and safety aspects of the project
  • We will visit the site early to get a better understanding of the site arrangements and conditions and also review the existing information you have, and follow this up with regular visits to site during the course of the project

Good examples of work when co-ordinating the pre-construction phase

  • We will meet with the client and the designers in a pre-design meeting to discuss the brief and the management of health and safety on the project
  • We will always seek contractor input during the design phase and this will help us to anticipate potential construction issues
  • Joint meeting on design co-ordination across all disciplines as this will help us gain a better understanding of how the design is being developed
  • We encourage designers to involve end users from the early stages of the design as this helps to gain a further understanding of the proposed use and maintenance of the property
  • As principal designer we will make sure that health and safety is the central theme in everything that we do and is managed as part of the project
  • We will ensure that there is a consistent approach in the way that information is provided by the designers so that you can stay on top of all aspects of he project
  • Towards the end of the design stage we will make sure that we review progress and determine anything that may benefit you as the client, the project and design team who receive the information

Health and safety is a hugely important aspect of any construction project and as the principal designer we will be taking responsibility for this. Not only can we help to avoid terrible accidents on site and health issues that affect thousands of site operatives, but we can also help to make sure that everything runs on time and within budget. We understand that the role of principal designer is a hugely important role in the process and is something that we undertake with the highest level of care.

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