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The Principal Designer Role and its Duties


The Construction, Design and Management Regulations 2015 (Often referred to as ‘CDM 2015’) was introduced in April 2015.

These vitally important set of regulations replaced the previous 2007 version, making some significant changes, namely the introduction of the new duty holder position of ‘Principal Designer’. In this article, we will explain the basis of CDM and how it is applied to construction works.


What is CDM (Construction, Design and Management)?

CDM is the systematic assessment and management of Health and Safety hazards and risks on construction projects. The ongoing assessment of hazards and risks commences at the pre-construction design phase of the project leading into, and through the construction phase of the project, up to the projects completion.

CDM applies to all building and construction works be it either a domestic or commercial project. This essentially means that CDM will apply to anything from a homeowner having structural works completed on their property, all the way to the building of large skyscrapers.

Under CDM 2015, there are 5 duty holders:

  • Client
  • Principal Designer
  • Principal Contractor
  • Designer
  • Contractor

Who is the Principal Designer?


The HSE states that a Principal Designer is a designer who is an organisation or individual appointed by the client to take control of the pre-construction phase of any project involving more than one contractor.

In order to understand this in more detail, lets break this sentence down.

  • A designer: this is a person (including a client, contractor or other person referred to in CDM) who in the course of furtherance of a business:a) Prepares or modifies a design; orb)Arranges for, or instructions, any person under their control to do so.
  • Appointed by the client: The client must appoint the Principal Designer as soon as is practicable, usually in writing. If the client fails to appoint a Principal Designer, the client must fulfil the duties of the Principal Designer. If the client is a domestic client, the rules relating to the failure to appoint a Principal Designer are different.
  • Control the pre-construction phase: This is the phase where everything is done, prior to the actual physical works being undertaken (i.e. the construction phase).

The Principal Designer must have the right skills, knowledge and experience, and, if they are an organisation, the organisational capability necessary to fulfil the role of the Principal Designer. In essence, they should have:

  • Technical knowledge of the construction industry, relevant to the project;
  • An understand of how Health and Safety is managed through the design process; and
  • The skills to be able to oversee Health and Safety during the construction phase.

Therefore, taking into consideration the HSE’s definition of a Principal Designer along with the skills, knowledge and experience needed, a Principal Designer tends to be a Health and Safety professional. This is because, a Health and Safety professional will be able to modify a design, to ensure that the design is compliant with any relevant Health and Safety legislation, prior the commencement of the construction phase.

What are the Duties of the Principal Designer?

Now we have a base understanding of what a Principal Designer it, we can now turn to understanding what duties the Principal Designer has. The CDM regulations sets out the following duties upon the Principal Designer:

  • Plan, manage and monitor the pre-construction phase.
  • Coordinate matters relating to Health and Safety during the pre-construction phase to ensure that, so far as is reasonably practicable, the project is carried out without risks to health or safety.
  • Take into account the Health and Safety when any design, technical and organisation aspect are being decided.
  • Take into account the Health and Safety when estimating the period of time required to complete such work or work stages.
  • Identify and eliminate or control, so far as is reasonably practicable, foreseeable risks to the health or safety of any person affected by the construction works, those maintaining or cleaning the structure, or using the structure designed a workplace.
  • Ensure that all persons working in relation to the pre-construction phase cooperate with all other duty holders.
  • Assist the client in the provision of the pre-construction information.
  • Provide pre-construction information to every designer and contractor appointed or being considered for appointment to the project.
  • Liaise with the Principal Contractor for the duration of their appointment as the Principal Designer and share with the Principal Contractor information relevant to the planning, management and monitoring of the construction phase and the coordination of Health and Safety matters during the construction phase.

Many of the duties listed above will be undertaken prior to any working taking place on site. However, the Principal Designers duties do not stop when construction work begins, but instead continue through to the completion of the project.

Duties of the Principal Designer in practice:

So what exactly do the duties of the Principal Designer look like in real life?

In real terms, a good Principal Designer should be in close partnership with the client and should be the ultimate reference on Health and Safety matters on the project. The Principal Designer should ensure that the client is being regularly updated on Health and Safety matters that have an impact on the project.

The Principal Designer must also ensure that the subject of Design Risk Management is kept at the forefront of all pre-construction design works and ensure the effective coordination between designers, architects and structural engineers on the project.

Working closely with the Project Manager, the Principal Designer will also liaise heavily with the Project Team updating the Project Health and Safety Design Risk Register.

The Principal Designer must also ensure all relevant pre-construction information is gathered and issued to prospective Principal Contractors, enabling them to prepare their project Construction Phase Plan (‘CPP’).

The Principal Designer will feature in the construction phase also, working with the Principal Contractor and wider Project Team, ensuring all construction phase design changes are captured and that any and all residual design risks are captured in the Design Risk Register.

Finally, the Principal Designer will prepare the projects Health and Safety File for the client, ensuring that all relevant Health and Safety information regarding the completed project is captured, enabling the safe and controlled use, maintenance and repair to be undertaken for the life of the completed works.

Is there a course to become a Principal Designer CDM?

Becoming a Principal Designer is not an easy route to take, but can be a very rewarding job, when applied correctly. Individuals wishing to become a Principal Designer should be either a Designer or have experience in design and must be able to influence the Health and Safety design aspects of a project.

A fundamental aspect of becoming a good Principal Designer is having a solid grounding in Health and Safety within construction.

People wishing to become Principal Designer should be a member of the Association of Project Safety (APS), preferably holding register (RMaPS) level within the association. The APS do run a number of courses which will help in the route in becoming a Principal Designer. Membership of the APS also requires members to embark on a path of continued professional development (CPD).


Looking for a Principal Designer?

Here at Universal Safety Practitioners, we have been appointed as the Principal Designer in hundreds of projects. Check out or Principal Designer page which will tell you about the services we provide, along with a booklet informing you of some of our previous projects.

If you would like to speak to us about our Principal Designer services, please call us on 01903 942996, or alternatively, email us at

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These vitally important set of regulations replaced the previous 2007 version, making some significant changes, namely the introduction of the new duty holder position of ‘Principal Designer’. In this article, we will explain the basis of CDM and how it is applied to construction works.