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Are you taking CDM seriously?

Are you taking CDM seriously?

Robin Templar Williams

Designer Robin Templar Williams FSGD worries that the industry is not prepared for new CDM regulations

Much has been written and said with regard to the revised Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations and their implications for garden designers and their domestic clients. I write this article, not in any way as an expert in this field, but rather as someone whose clients and practice are affected by the changes.

Having attended a couple of CDM 15 workshops myself, and having read the HSE guidance L153 document, I was left feeling none the wiser and even slightly panicked. It seemed to me that the subject was communicated in an overly complicated and, on occasion, somewhat scaremongering fashion.

Having now discussed the subject with independent health and safety consultants, I believe I have a clearer understanding of my responsibilities. The revised draft CDM 15 came into place back in April 2015 with a six-month period of grace, coming into full effect in October 2015. Designers have always had an obligation and duty of care with regard to health and safety – producing risk assessments and documenting immediately identifiable problems and potential hazards to contractors, their operatives and sub-contractors.

However, this documentation was usually produced retrospectively, at the end of the design process. The new regulations require that this information is prepared during the design process and compiled as a Health & Safety File to then be passed to the contractor to be developed into their construction phase plan.

Why you need to worry

Why was it felt necessary for the CDM regulations to be adjusted to encompass domestic construction? Broadly, health and safety in large and commercial construction has improved greatly and the number of serious injuries and fatalities has significantly reduced. This reduction remains broadly unchanged in the domestic sector, which for the most part remains unregulated. Perhaps it might not be a bad idea that it be a requirement that “near misses” should be recorded. This could give domestic contractors and designers an insight into any potential and common causes.

Clearly, the health and safety of operatives during the implementation of a project is critically important and, as such, the designer and client need to be aware of this, not just during the construction phase, but also for the ongoing work that might be carried out by others. There is absolutely nothing new in this, but I do wonder, being totally honest, if we always fully consider these things when we are sitting at our drawing boards or computers. Not to say that we don’t care; rather that we don’t explore fully the implications of our design proposals.

The basics of CDM for garden designers

My basic understanding is as follows. At the initial client consultation, the designer is to advise the client with regard to health and safety and the requirement for the preparation of the Pre-Construction Information, developed into the Health & Safety File where there is more than one contractor. Upon instruction to proceed with the design, we must request from the client any information that they may have which might affect or impact on the design and resultant potential risks; then commence with the design and with the Health and Safety Folder.

Once the design process is complete, we pass the Health and Safety Folder to the appointed contractor. The Health & Safety File should then be developed into the contractor’s Construction Phase Plan, which needs to be reviewed and updated as required – for example, changes to the design, materials and previously unknown items and elements which may arise. During this phase, the designer is not responsible for the upkeep of the file, but is likely to be consulted by the contractor and be required to contribute to it.

Upon the completion of the work, the contractor is to hand the file to the client as a comprehensive Operating and Maintenance Manual. This can be used by future designers and contractors on any later works. Additionally to the preparation of the Health and Safety Folder, the project may become notifiable to the HSE. The client has the initial responsibility for this, but the (principal) designer is more than likely to assist and take on this task.

The project becomes notifiable when the construction work lasts longer than 30 days and has more than 20 operatives working simultaneously at any point in the project; or if the construction phase exceeds more than 500 person days. The client is required to notify the HSE as soon as practically possible.

My conclusion to all of this, within the domestic sphere, is that it falls to each and every one of us to record and set down potential risks into a formal document during the process of designing, and not at the end as part of the scope of works and specification at the tendering stage. I will be feeding this information into my own documentation, together with a colour coded and annotated health and safety drawing, which will perhaps be a more tangible and useful piece of information for the contractor and thereafter the client.

It is important that each one of us seeks independent and professional advice with regard to our own practice and administrative procedures to ensure that we meet the current legislation.

This article was originally published in the February 2016 issue of the Garden Design Journal, and received the following feedback from readers. All views expressed below are the contributor’s own and do not represent the views of the SGD or the GDJ.


Thank you for the helpful article on CDM by Robin Templar Williams in the February edition of the GDJ. This is an off-putting subject for many designers, including myself. We want to design and be creative, not read through health and safety manuals. However, it is important that as garden designers we get to grips with this legislation which as the article points out, has implications for every designer, now that domestic clients are within the remit of this legislation. 

I would welcome clear guidance from the SGD on the changes to CDM because I guess like me, many garden designers have never seen a Health and Safety Plan and would not know how to go about writing one - apart from common-sense ‘dangers’. I am sure many are not even aware that they have to inform clients of their role, or that as the first appointed contractor they will probably automatically take on the client’s responsibility under this new law and that of Principal Designer.

In particular, a common-sense approach setting out real life situations would be really helpful. For example I have a client who ‘just wanted some advice on a new border’. In turn I have persuaded my client that looking at one border in an acre of garden is not the best approach, and so I am doing a Sketch Masterplan to put the new border in context.

This client has a gardener who will most probably plant the proposals I come up with and she has a DIY man who will probably construct a pergola/lay hard landscape etc. In this situation, will the gardener and the DIY man count as contractors? I can\'t imagine they will be compiling Health and Safety Files.

The last thing my client wants to hear is that they have responsibilities under CDM and be presented with files and forms. Maybe some guidance on small and medium sized garden situations such as this would be helpful to many SGD members?

Juliet Matthews of Fresh Design Gardens, Pre-registered SGD member


In response, we are delighted to announce that the SGD has provided guidance on CDM for its members. The new guide, prepared by Dr. Liz Lake, navigates the intricacies of the new regulations and points out the penalties for not complying. Also included in the pack are a template for garden designers to use and a stand-alone risk assessment template.

Philippa O’Brien MSGD, Chair of the SGD said: “Continual professional development is vital for any profession and keeping up to date on the legalities should be right at the top of any professional’s “to do” list. The SGD is calling on all Members to read this presentation and make sure they understand how to comply with the new regulations. Everyone needs to know that it is a criminal offence not to carry out the simple health and safety checks required. I urge all Members not to put this off until they are less busy, instead download the guide and make it their favourite bedtime reading.”

The presentation and accompanying templates are available free to Registered, Pre-Registered and Student Members of the Society. Members should log in to the Member or Student Zones  at where the documents can be found in the ‘CDM Regulations’ ‘Useful information’ and ‘CPD’ sections.

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