Health and safety is of paramount importance when it comes to construction projects and the Construction (Design and Management) or CDM regulations are designed to ensure that these issues are properly considered as a project progresses. The ultimate aim, of course, being to ensure that the risk of harm to those who build, use and maintain structures is reduced.

The regulations were introduced in 1994, following the publication of a European Directive two years earlier, and were revised in 2007 and again in April 2015.

Here, in the first of a two-part series we take a look at the evolution of the CDM regulations and what changed in the 2015 revision. (You can find the second part, looking at roles and responsibilities under CDM 2015 here).

1992 European Directive – 92/57/EEC

92/57/EEC externallinkcovered minimum health and safety standards for any temporary or mobile construction site where building or civil engineering works are being carried out and established a clear chain of responsibilities for such projects, linking all parties involved.

The directive contained two key requirements:

  • The first was noted in Article 3: Appointment of coordinators – Safety and health plan – Prior notice and required the client or project supervisor to appoint one (or more ) coordinators for safety and health matters, (described in Article 2(e) and (f)), for any site on which more than one contractor is present.

  • The second requirement put the onus on the client or project supervisor to draw up a safety and health plan prior to the setting up of a construction site (as described in Article 5(b)).

From the Directive to CDM

From the European Directive sprang the UK response – the introduction of CDM regulations in 1994, that saw the introduction of the roles of ‘planning supervisors’ and ‘principal contractors’.

In 2007 a further revision saw ‘CDM coordinators’ replacing planning supervisors, and in 2015 regulations introduced the role of ‘principal designer’ to replace ‘CDM coordinator’.

The 2015 revisions came about as a result of the government-commissioned report - Reclaiming Health and Safety for All (2011) externallink (.pdf, 0.7Mb).

The Löfstedt report found the regulations were broadly fit for purpose but that they had not reduced bureaucracy as had been initially envisaged and that industry had taken a somewhat heavy-handed and burdensome approach to ensuring competence in carrying out the prescribed roles. Additionally, the co-ordination function in the pre-construction phase was found (in many cases) to be not terribly well embedded.

The larger, more structured part of the construction industry was found to have made significant progress when it came to managing health and safety risks though there was still room for improvement on smaller sites (with the majority of construction-related fatalities in the UK occurring on sites where fewer than 15 people work). In a nutshell, problems that arose around health and safety generally came from misinterpretation of the regulations and this needed to be addressed.

CDM 2015

In revising the CDM regulations externallinkin 2015 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) externallinkhoped to maintain or improve worker protection and improve health and safety standards on small construction sites. It aimed to do this by:

  • Simplifying the regulatory package
  • Implementing the 92/57/EEC Directive in a more proportionate way
  • Discouraging bureaucracy
  • Meeting the principles of ‘better regulation’.

Duty holders

The regulations prescribe the following duty holders:

  • Clients. Domestic clients are no longer exempt under the 2015 legislation with a client defined as anyone for whom a construction project is carried out.
  • Principal designers and designers – A designer is any person (including a client, contractor or other person referred to in the Regulations) who in the course or furtherance of a business either prepares or modifies a design or arranges or instructs another person under their control to do so.
  • Principal contractor and contractors
  • Workers


When it comes to duties these are either absolute – the duty holder must ‘ensure’ something – or qualified where the holder must make something happen ‘so far as reasonably practicable’.

Duty holders must follow the general principals of prevention; avoiding risks where possible, evaluating those that cannot be avoided, introducing measures to control or manage risks that do exist and provide appropriate training and instruction.


The regulations apply to ‘construction work’ and ‘structures’ (as broadly defined) if the work is being carried out in the UK (even if design elements are outsourced). The duty holders are required where more than one contractor is involved.


The Health and Safety Executive should be notified of work by the client (previously the contractor) which lasts (or is estimated to last) more than 30 working days and involves more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any given point. This notification should include details of the project, its planning and management, any health and safety hazards and, crucially is needed for the preconstruction and construction phases. An adapted version of the notification is needed for a health and safety file at the end of the project.


The designer and contractor must have the skills, knowledge, experience (and organisational capabilities) to fulfil the role to which they are appointed (and must not accept appointment if they cannot fulfil these obligations) in a manner that secures the health and safety of any person affected by the project.  (As detailed in Regulations 8(1) and 8(2).

The client must take ‘reasonable steps’ to ensure designer and contractor fulfil these conditions (as prescribed in Regulation 8(3)).

Everyone involved must co-operate with others working on or adjacent to a project, report health and safety risk to any party under whose control that party is working and provide information as soon as practicable.

Roles and responsibilities

The second part of this series looks at roles and responsibilities of the client, designer, principal designer, principal contractor and contractors in more detail.