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To some, the Principal Designer role is shrouded in mystery and a bit of a confusion. 

“What’s it got to do with design, doesn’t an architect do that?” 
“Does it replace the CDM Co-ordinator role?” 
“Do I really need one for my project?”
 “Who actually takes on this role?”

All these and more have led to this role becoming misunderstood. Below, for those of you not acquainted with this position, we give some context and why B&M can offer more than just box-ticking health and safety. 

Throughout the iterations of Health and Safety guidance and practice, it was often felt by those involved that there was a gap in the process between design and construction when it came to risk management. We all know that decisions taken early in the design process will fundamentally affect all areas of the project, including the health and safety of those who will construct, maintain and repair the building. However, we have seen that this element is not always fully considered, with others like design, style and budget sometimes leading the way. 

Beaver Road, a multi-million pound scheme in Ashford, is benefiting from the inclusion of a PD during the design development stages. CGI Courtesy of ON Architecture

The (relatively newish) role of Principal Designer looks to close this gap and seeks to ‘plan, manage and monitor the pre-construction phase, to co-ordinate health and safety’ according to CITB. To some, this is achieved most basically and frequently by not much more than the provision of Pre-Construction information, preparation of the health and safety file and liaison with the contractor on their Construction Phase Health and Safety Plan.

However, as a provider of the service ourselves, we know the Principal Designer role can offer so much more than just a bureaucratic box ticking exercise of providing information.

For us, the role of Principal Designer will align all elements so that health and safety is considered hand in hand with design, budget, form and contributes to the delivery of positive health and safety outcomes. 

The Principal Designer should understand the client’s drivers for certain decision making during the design phase. This will enable them to keep these in mind and encourage the client to make the reasons for these known through the early stages, rather than at the construction stage when it is often too late or too costly to do anything about it. 

Principal Designers can then provide critical but constructive oversight and help co-ordinate the flow of information through the pre-construction stage, ensuring health and safety stays at the forefront of everyone’s minds, all while achieving the client’s vision for the scheme. 

We’re PD on Five Acre Wood’s New Hydrotherapy Pool. CGI courtesy of OSG Architecture

Most importantly, the role enables them to challenge the design team at the early stages to identify, control and manage risk. If acted upon and either completely mitigated or reduced to an acceptable level, this can reduce cost, improve buildability and increase health and safety throughout the lifecycle of the project. 

We believe having an experienced Principal Designer as an active part of the design team can add value to any scheme, especially in our case as our Principal Designer is an experienced former client-side Facilities Manager. Using the framework set out above and thinking holistically about a project, clients can make informed decisions about longer term aspects of their project early on. For example, we have found that clients who, with the input of a PD, consider how to make maintenance accessible and safe in post occupation, can not only minimise cost as suggested, but will be able to respond to issues more rapidly, which could change the game in an emergency. 

It is vital then that clients debate when to employ a Principal Designer, at B&M, the PD role is considered a vital part of the design process. The earlier the appointment, the sooner the Principal Designer can be of benefit throughout the project, minimising risk from the outset, improving co-ordination and reducing costs for the lifespan of the building. 

9th April 2020