Much ado about CDM


    Andrew Dixon, Policy Advisor at the Federation of Master Builders provides an easy to understand breakdown of what the new regulations mean, and the impact it has on their members…

    When important sets of regulations undergo major revisions, representative organisations face particular sets of challenges in both speaking on behalf of their members, and at the same time clearly communicating these changes to their members. The trick is to understand what really matters and to avoid over-statement whenever possible.

    In April of this year, the regulations which provide the framework for the management of health and safety in the construction industry changed significantly. The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, or ‘CDM’, now applied ‘across the board’ to all construction projects. Before April, the Regulations were split between basic provisions which applied to all projects, and significant extra duties which applied only to projects lasting more than 30 days or with more than 500 person working days. As such, CDM had previously been widely perceived as applying mainly or (incorrectly) solely, to larger commercial projects.

    As awareness spread that the intention was to create a single set of requirements applicable to all sites, and that domestic clients would no longer be exempted from client duties, there was understandably some apprehension about what this would mean for small contractors and general builders – precisely the kind of firms which are increasingly the focus of HSE’s attention, and precisely the sort of firms that make up the majority of the FMB’s approximately 8,500 members.

    The FMB’s mission is to be a beacon for high standards and professionalism within our industry. Yet we also need to hear and understand our members’ greatest concern – that in a relatively under-regulated industry, where competition is fierce and margins are tight, those who cut corners gain significant competitive advantage. Our approach to health and safety is thus: that high standards of health and safety must always be a priority, but that small firms should be following sensible and proportionate approaches to the risks they face – so the focus must be on good practice, not on paperwork or box-ticking exercises. This is an approach that we believe takes the vast majority of our members with us, it is one we believe is shared by HSE, and it was the basis of our representations and communications around the CDM changes.

    As the industry considered the likely changes, there were plenty who seemed happy to over-state the changes, as if what was being discussed would suddenly bring health and safety regulations to some firms for the first time. I had meetings with some health and safety professionals who would talk in the gravest tones about this, almost as if a swarm of HSE inspectors was waiting to rain down and take action against any bathroom refurbishment without a proper, weighty construction phase plan.

    Though these kind of over-statements abounded, this was never the reality, either of HSE’s intentions and inspection regime, or of the law itself. Beyond certain technical requirements, the focus of the CDM Regulations has always been the principles of coordination of health and safety management in the specific circumstances of a construction project, not detailed arrangements for dealing with specific risks. CDM 2015 has changed neither the principles, nor day-to-day practice of good health and safety management. As such, much of the FMB’s response to the changes was therefore calibrated by focusing on the changes that our members need to be aware of, and the one change which had actual practical implications.

    There was a need to address the widespread misunderstanding that followed from the inclusion of domestic clients in the scope of the Regulations. In fact, under the terms of the regulations, domestic clients need not be aware of any duties, as these will automatically fall on the contractor, and HSE guidance makes quite clear that this should not normally involve any extra work by the contractor.

    We then focused on the one real practical change to working practices that members would have to make – this being the requirement for a construction phase health and safety plan for every construction project. During the consultation period we had raised concerns about the potential for this to be interpreted disproportionately. There remain concerns about this, but some excellent resources to help small firms manage this requirement have been produced, including the CDM Wizard app which helps produce a plan and an HSE template plan for small projects.

    The FMB’s communication of the changes took a number of forms, but always revolved around this approach. Our member e-newsletter contained concise messages about key changes, with a focus on the construction phase plan. Member magazine articles, produced in conjunction with HSE, went into more detail on some of the changes, but retained a concentration on the plan, clarification about areas of potential confusion, and highlighted HSE’s key messages to small contractors and the practical resources available to them. We also produced a four page ‘fact sheet’ encapsulating the most important and relevant messages, and FMB regional offices held a number of workshop events, often with local HSE inspectors there to talk members through the changes.

    The hope is that the effort put into this and the approach taken have ensured that no FMB members can say that they aren’t aware of the new Regulations, that they understand the main changes relevant to them, that they have the support and information they need to fulfil their responsibilities, without overreacting, and in a way that they feel is manageable and proportionate. That, at least, is the goal. ■

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Andrew Dixon

    Policy Advisor

    Federation of Master Builders


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here