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CDM: Big fines have arrived

Your career: Martin Barnard's safety column

In recent articles I have reflected the wide-ranging views held about the CDM Regulations. It is clear that you either love them or hate them, and I am pleased to see that the debate has continued strongly in Letters to the Editor in recent weeks.

It is perhaps appropriate to pause and ask whether we are being fair to CDM and the principles it promotes. We should not forget that CDM is still in its infancy in legal terms. It has not had the benefit of the clarity which legal precedents have brought to other health and safety legislation.

Even long established provisions remain a mystery to some: for example, despite the 25th anniversary of the Health & Safety at Work Act, the meaning of 'so far as is reasonably practicable' still brings on the yawn and the glazed look (or was it 'reasonably possible' or 'practicably reasonable'? ).

The Construction Regulations will be familiar to many in the industry. We have had 70 years of practice on those but have still not sorted it all out - for example short duration work at height.

The history of health and safety legislation as being meaningful in the development of a positive approach to the topic has a consistent, significant story line.

There is invariably one case, involving a high profile organisation or a substantial fine, which sparks life into the subject and brings a greater keenness to comply.

In my view CDM is no different to any other legislation and has in fact reached the moment when it will either deliver the good intent it promises, or wither away to an insignificant end.

At the end of March 2002 we completed seven years of CDM.

The enforcement picture before and after that date is hugely contrasting and significant.

Consider the following: In 12 months to March 2002 lOnly 22 cases under CDM l30% down on previous year and 10% lower than average for first six years lTotal of all CDM fines was £53,680 lAverage CDM fine was £2,440, minimum was £250, maximum was £8,000.

In three months from April 2002 lFive cases under CDM with total fines of £360,000 - that is more than seven times the total of fines levied in the whole of the previous year lClient fined £195,000 for not having a planning supervisor, principal contractor or suitable health and safety plan - that fine was more than 24 times the maximum fine in the previous year lClient fined £125,000 for not appointing planning supervisor or principal contractor - that fine was more than double the total of all CDM fines for the previous year, lClient fined £40,000 for not having a pre-construction health and safety plan - that fine was 16 times greater than the CDM average for the previous year.

By anyone's judgement, such fines are significant and would indicate that CDM is beginning to bite back. There are certainly now at least three organisations which understand the consequence of not getting CDM right.

There are those who say that CDM needs to be re-written. The entrepreneur in me says 'great idea'. More years of confusion and uncertainty, as we get to grips with yet more legislation, will keep me busy until retirement. Mr Sensible within me says 'give it a chance', like all previous legislation it needs time. With a £195,000 fine on the books, the only way is up for future CDM penalties.

So as my sons tell me, 'chill out and give it a chance'. Of course you may not agree. Let me know.

PS. I note that HSE has announced a proactive plan to address the role of the designer in major projects. While I don't take full credit for throwing them the challenge (NCE 18 July), I thank them for taking this much needed step. I trust that the industry will work positively with them to achieve the common good aim.

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