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CDM: becoming more like Confusion, Despair and Mayhem!

Martin Barnard's safety column

Over the last few months, I have invited contributions to the debate on the role of the designer in construction health and safety.

The light-hearted from the past (those old enough to remember the advertisement) would connect CDM with a bar of chocolate. The cynical of today would say CDM stands for confusion, despair and mayhem. Having set out in my original article with a quest for clarity on the topic of design, I find the reality is far from it.

NCE has recently run several letters to the editor which reflect the widely differing views on the subject. In this article I want to explore why such variations exist.

'Has there been any rigorous analysis of construction accidents to support the view that designers have most to do to reduce the accident rate in construction?'

That was my original question, and the overwhelming answer is that no such analysis exists.

It is therefore not surprising that progress will be slow. Why change when there is no pressing need to do so? Perhaps the following views will assist: Nick Reilly holds the strongly expressed view that, despite the absence of any supporting evidence, designers believe they should do more because of the brainwashing they have received in the media and literature over the last 10 years or so - to the point where it has become conventional wisdom.

Roy Duff believes that the difficulty in proving responsibility for a design inadequacy, in all but the most serious failures, is making CDM ineffective. He speculates that this is because there are so many project participants who can now contribute to safety, or to the cause of accidents.

This theme is continued by Tim Ackers who finds the attempts to blur the lines of responsibility for accidents between the various parties is probably as dangerous and counterproductive as the attempts to set up independent bodies for maintaining rail safety.

A concept I have often come across was expounded by Simon Pole, who argues that design per se is rarely dangerous. It is the method of construction/ The most consistent theme in the responses was the call for greater input from the Health & Safety Executive.

maintenance that creates dangers, and we need to question who specifies the 'doing' and with what incentive.

Steve James touched on one of several practical options when he suggested that contractors could provide details of where risks could be designed out of construction.

This pooling of knowledge is logical but has often been frustrated in the past. If only it could be so easy!

Jeffrey Smith summed up nicely: the way in which designers can improve site safety is still not appreciated by some. It is a subtle business. He is of course correct, and the subtlety has presumably been lost on many designers.

The most consistent theme in the responses was the call for greater input from the Health & Safety Executive. Some may say the silence is deafening. That would in my view be unfair.

There is however a need for clear, unambiguous leadership at what is increasingly a critical period for CDM. If the HSE cannot or will not lead from the front, perhaps the professional institutions should do so. Now there's a challenge!

If this somewhat damning review of CDM design inspires you to express an opinion, I look forward to receiving it: martin. barnard@ symonds-group. com.

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