Richard Thorne: If it ain't broke, don't fix it
As revealed in CM last month, the HSE intends to replace CDM 2007 and the accompanying Approved Code of Practice with a new slimmed-down approach by 2014, supposedly in the name of reducing red tape and the industry’s regulatory burden (news, June 2012). Is this a well timed intervention or potentially a time-wasting exercise? I can’t really see the point of the move and believe that the current regulations and ACoP should be left alone. Where there are failings or non-compliance, then the real issue for the industry is perhaps a general lack of commitment among some duty holders.
We only need to look at the HSE Research Report RR920 Evaluation of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007, published in April this year. Apart from a few old chestnuts, CDM was generally given a clean bill of health. Respondents quoted widely known issues such as confusion over notification, infrequent clients not always being familiar with CDM, generic paperwork, overcomplicated competence assessments, ineffective CDM coordinators (ouch!) and so on.
There were some suggestions of inflexibility in that the regulations cannot cope with current forms of procurement, or activities such as term contracts, but in reality all that is needed is the application of common sense. These issues alone do not warrant a full-scale rethink unless there are other radical proposals to take our industry forward in improving health and safety on sites and in the finished facility.
According to HSE proposals, the new system will drop the ACoP and instead fully apply the EU Temporary or Mobile Sites Directive, which was never fully adopted in the UK. In particular, this will remove the current exemption for domestic clients, meaning that any domestic clients embarking on works to their home lasting 30 days or more may be obliged to notify the HSE and become a CDM duty holder themselves. It will be interesting to see how this will be received by the public and politicians — and it will certainly cause a few headaches and perhaps result in widespread non-compliance in the domestic sector as parties seek to avoid their responsibilities for health and safety.
Poor health and safety
HSE has recognised for some time that poor health and safety standards among SME contractors is an issue and has worked tirelessly with industry stakeholders such as the Working Well Together Campaign to influence basic safety performance on smaller sites. While there have been notable successes, there have been difficulties in connecting with SMEs that are notoriously resistant to change and perhaps justifiably focused on the financial aspects of their business. In reality, changing the CDM regime will not help the overall drive for improved safety performance, or address current levels of non-compliance in the domestic, maintenance and repair sectors.
The new 2014 regulations may be accompanied by HSE targeting its resources on smaller projects, but this may turn out to be counterproductive. While the Olympics and other major projects, such as those delivered under collaborative frameworks or where led by major contractors, may serve as an example of best practice, it would be wrong to assume that all parties on major projects discharge their duty competently and in a committed manner — standards are variable and can always be improved.
My point is that the current regulations are fit for purpose and easy enough to follow, so to unduly simplify them — and justify this on the grounds that we need to make compliance for smaller sites easier — will in fact encourage some duty holders to do less than they currently are.
But change is inevitable and it is important that we all contribute, particularly CIOB members who will be actively involved as CDM duty holders, or act as project managers and as such have an opportunity to influence CDM compliance on all projects and at every stage.
I also welcome the proposed review of the CDM coordinator role. If we can find others who are better placed to coordinate and deliver health and safety, then let’s do it. The HSE should also look closely at the way CDM coordination is procured and funded; in some sectors, competition and market forces are driving down fees to a level where a reasonable standard of compliance is increasingly difficult to achieve. Perhaps it would be better to promote a situation where CDM coordinators are appointed on a time charge basis, thus giving them the opportunity to fully engage in the project and influence in a positive and compliant manner.
Overall, we need more communication, cooperation and a practical common sense approach to CDM, not a rethink of the legislation.
Richard Thorne MCIOB is a regional director in Aecom, vice chair of the CIOB’s health and safety panel and chair of the Working Well Together Campaign in the south west