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Debate Construction safety

Just under six years ago, the Construction (Design & Management) regulations put construction professionals in charge of ensuring construction projects were accident free. There is some debate about whether the creation of this role has made any difference.

This week we ask: Do planning supervisors improve construction safety?


The aims of the CDM regulations are to assess competence, reduce and preferably eliminate health and safety risks through design, pass timely information to the construction team and coordinate these requirements.

The planning supervisor is fundamentally involved in achieving these aims by ensuring health and safety issues are dealt with during the design and management of a project.

Planning supervisors have increased awareness of clients and designers to construction safety and the effect of early design and management decisions on safety.

Some clients ask for assistance with the assessment of the competence of designers and contractors (a survey by the Association of Planning Supervisors found that clients request planning supervisors check 30% of designers and 45% of contractors on projects). Would the client undertake these checks, or be in a position to undertake these checks, without the appointment of a planning supervisor?

The pre-construction stage health and safety plan, generally prepared by the planning supervisor, contains relevant information and risk assessment from designers and is used by the principal contractor when costing and resourcing a project. A recent survey established that 85% of clients request advice from planning supervisors on the sufficiency of the construction stage health and safety plan to permit work to begin on site. Almost half of these checks resulted in the plan being referred back to the contractor for improvement.

The health and safety file created under the control of the planning supervisor at the end of the project provides valuable health and safety information for those who maintain, extend or demolish the structure.

Planning supervisors do improve construction safety due to the positive effect their involvement has on the consideration of health and safety by clients, designers and principal contractors.


Planning supervision has done little to bring about any real improvements in site safety despite costing the industry millions. The poor and worsening accident rate since CDM was introduced almost six years ago must tell us something.

It is widely acknowledged that planning supervision has led to massive bureaucracy within the industry.

The prime purpose of the planning supervisor in ensuring that designers design out risk appears to have been lost in the administrative process of churning out paperwork to 'demonstrate compliance'.

In looking for the reasons as to why the role has failed to deliver any significant benefits it would be easy to say that the industry has simply failed to implement the regulations correctly and that all that is needed is some revised guidance.

This would be to seriously underestimate the problem; the root cause of the failure goes much deeper.

Modern thinking on improving the overall performance of the industry generally involves bringing designers and contractors closer together, often into single teams, to better deliver the clients' project.

The CDM requirement of inserting a third party, the planning supervisor, between designer and contractor, to check that the designer has complied with his legal duty, is at best superfluous and at worst an obstacle to better design and communication.

The duties of the planning supervisor are generally satisfactory.

However, they would be much better allocated to the design team, with a lead designer appointed to provide a co-ordinating role where necessary.

This would remove the need for the planning supervisor and much of the confusion this role still causes.

CDM has succeeded in bringing greater attention and resource to the health and safety aspects of project design and planning. What is now needed is to focus these efforts on the key roles that clients and designers have in reducing risk.

The regulations should therefore be amended to remove the need for planning supervisors and to better match how large sections of the industry now operate under the newer procurement routes.

The facts

Deputy prime minister John Prescott is so concerned about construction safety that he is holding a safety summit for the industry later this month.

Under the Construction (Design & Management) regulations, every major construction project must employ a planning supervisor to ensure it can be built safely.

During the first six months of 2000/2001, 62 people died in construction accidents. This compares with 39 in the same period of the year before when the annual total was 86.

The Health & Safety Executive employs 1,500 inspectors, of which a third focus on construction.

Construction workers are five times more likely to be killed and twice as likely to sustain a major injury as those in other industries.

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