27 Aug 2015

CDM and the selfbuilder

In April 2015, the CDM (Construction Design and Management) Regulations were expanded to include selfbuild for the first time. This appears to be in response to a European Directive that all building works should be covered by Health and Safety legislation, regardless of the way the sites were run, or of their scale.  The UK government risked being fined if it didn't implement the Directive (which has been around since 1992) in the way the EU thought appropriate.

So now almost all building activity comes under the ambit of CDM. The only exclusion is if the work is truly DIY, with no paid contractors at all. But to counter the widening of CDM, the resultant duties have been made a lot simpler and easier to achieve.

The CDM regs began life in 1995 and received a major upgrade in 2007. The earlier versions of CDM specifically excluded domestic clients but made substantial administrative demands on small builders running commercial sites. There was a key appointment of a CDM co-ordinator who had to take on responsibility for developing a Health and Safety file and ensuring that everybody involved on the job had some level of competence. The 2015 regs not only do away with this Co-ordinator role but make no mention at all of competence. Maybe competence was just too much to police. Maybe it was dropped because it was needlessly bureaucratic. But it's gone, and with it much of the purpose of CDM.

What's left? The Health and Safety file is still required but the guidance offered by the Health and Safety Executive is to download an App called CDM Wizard (available only on Android and IoS, which shows just where this is being pitched). Fill it out — mostly a series of checkboxes, about 15 minutes work — and "This is the Construction Phase Plan of your job as required under CDM 2015." Sorted.

You still have to notify large jobs to the HSE before you start but very few selfbuilds will be of sufficient size to have to warrant a notification. The threshold is that the job lasts longer than 30 working days and has more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any point in the project,  or the job as a whole exceeds 500 person days. Most selfbuilds should take rather less time.

It is also noticeable that the 2007 CDM regs guidance was a much longer document and was frankly over-complicated. It didn't include any information about health and safety risks, merely their management. In contrast, nearly half of the 90-page CDM 2015 guidance concerns itself with managing specific risks you are likely to meet on site. 

For instance, if you are involved in demolition, you are required to plan and carry it out in such a manner as to prevent danger or, where it is not practicable to prevent it, to reduce danger to as low a level as is reasonably practicable. It's hardly going to say anything else, is it? You are also required to have a written record of your plans before commencing, but if you have filled out the CDM Wizard, you will be there already. 

So what exactly is required of today's selfbuilder, now that almost all building work comes under CDM?  The guidance includes a flowchart (p86) which is about as clear as mud, as it bandies around terms like DIY and contractor without defining them. But if you work your way through this, you will find that you are more than likely deemed to be a domestic client and that you really don't have to do anything because the people working for you, be they designers, main contractors or individual tradesmen, become responsible for CDM by default, unless you want someone in particular to act as the CDM guy.

I don't happen to believe that CDM 2015 is particularly taxing on designers and contractors either. Designers are required to design in ways to minimise risk to workers and to follow-on maintenance, which isn't a bad idea and hardly needs a set of regulations to tell us as much. And contractors have to produce a health and safety file, which it appears can be done for free via the CDM Wizard. For large complex jobs, CDM may come to have a significant role to play. But at the domestic client scale, it's now not far short of being a simple check-box exercise.

Critically, CDM 2015 has replaced the competence tests with something approaching self-certification. If you judge yourself to be competent, than you pretty much are. For the past twenty years, lots of people have made a few quid by acting as professional CDM co-ordinators, often charging a four figure sum for the privilege. So whilst CDM now applies in the domestic building arena for the first time, it's going to be hard for professionals to justify charging such sums for "managing" things that designers and builders should be doing as a matter of course. 

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