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CDM: mind the gap


When the Construction (Design and Management) regulations came into force in 1995, they were never realistically going to sweep in to radically transform the construction industry's poor safety record. And they haven't.

Yes, there has been a marginal reduction in the number of people killed each year - down from 90 to 59 in the past 10 years and from six to three deaths per 100,000 workers.

But as many of the regulations' detractors - and many of its supporters - will point out, the ancial and managerial cost of delivering this improvement has been too high. Professionals, designers particularly, have been forced by the regulations to put a disproportionate amount of effort into protecting their position rather than concentrating on improving design.

Put simply, CDM was a good idea, but a good idea that has, to date, delivered insufcient bang for its not inconsiderable buck. Yet there can be no question that over the past decade, and perhaps thanks largely to the CDM regulations, the focus on safety by construction professionals has grown and has never been higher than it is right now. And when coupled with the Construction (Health, Safety & Welfare) regulations it is hard not to conclude that conditions on construction sites have changed for the better.

The CDM regulations mean it is now impossible for a designer to simply foist the unbuildable onto the contractor; for a client to stand back and hope that safety will take care of itself; or for contractors to skirt around their responsibilities towards workers' welfare.

Could the industry do better?

Absolutely. From a well-meant starting point, the industry has grown used to working with a set of regulations that do not always help in the way they were originally intended.

Hence the revisions to the regulations, which are published in January and come into force next April. They will, presumably, be welcomed by both construction professions and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE).

That said, our CDM survey results this week suggest that the industry is not completely convinced that 'new' will necessarily mean 'better'.

However, they do come as a response to the needs of the industry and, in particular, a desire by everyone in construction to treat safety as an integral part of the process.

If there has been a failing of the original CDM regulations it has been to ghettoise safety as a bolt-on to the main event of designing, constructing and managing infrastructure.

While construction has moved forward with a more holistic approach to projects, starting with the client and involving the whole supply chain, safety has too often remained on the outside as a necessary bureaucracy, rather than a management tool. The CDM revisions hope to change this, but as our survey also highlights, there are still major gaps in the industry's understanding of what will be expected of them after April next year.

Perhaps this is unsurprising since we have to wait until January for the Approved Code of Practice and revised regulations to be published.

But the HSE intends that the regulations will help construction professionals by focusing on managing risk rather that paper. Certainly it is far from too late to get to grips with the new regulations. The best advice is to make sure you do.

Antony Oliver is NCE editor

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