How can principal designers influence safe working at height?

Working unsafely at height can lead to serious harm, both to an individual employee and on a reputational level to a company. It is therefore essential that projects are managed as safely as possible. Stephen Allen-Tidy, NASC Health and Safety Advisor, explores further.


When working at height is required, hazards are sadly inevitable. However, steps can be taken to eliminate, reduce and control them.

Of course, the best way to ensure a hazard does not lead to an incident and injury is to remove the hazard altogether at design stage. Failing that, the hazard should be reduced and controlled throughout the lifetime of the project.

This hazard reduction is usually the responsibility of the principal designer and their team.

Design out

The purpose of the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) is to design out hazards wherever possible at the design and planning stage of a project.

As such, principal designers have a duty under CDM 2015 to make their client aware of what is required by the legislation, taking into account their level of knowledge and experience of the type of project being undertaken.

This could involve the principal designer assisting in developing a client’s brief with key requirements and expectations for the project, including any limitations or restrictions such as health and safety expectations, highlighting safety in design and the use of risk registers, all of which are key at the planning stage of any project.

In some cases, clients have chosen to appoint the principal designer to work with the architect at the design stage, enabling hazards to be designed out or reduced with planned for controls to prevent injury throughout the lifetime of the project. It is at this stage the principal designer can have a significant impact on the design by reminding the architect and the client of their health and safety duties.

The principal designer can also advise the client to stipulate the need to use specialist contractors for working at height such as those that make up the Access Industry Forum (AIF), formed of organisations who specialise in working at height of which the NASC is a member.

In the event that the principal designer and the principal contractor have already been appointed, and the project is at its design or pre-construction stage, the principal designer can include the principal contractor or their specialist working at height contractors into the design team as soon as possible. Doing so will enable the design team to identify working at height hazards, and design them out for each stage of the project where scaffold or other specialist equipment maybe required.

The early engagement of specialist contractors will prevent incidents and will add further benefits in savings in construction time and costs for each project.

Ongoing hazard management

The other key role of the principal designer is to develop and update the Design Safety Hazard Register by arranging Design Safety Review meetings throughout the planning and construction phase to identify, eliminate and control significant risks, thereby ensuring designers meet their duties.

The principal designer should make the client aware of these hazards and the means to eliminate, reduce or control them. The Design Safety Hazard Register and Design Safety Reviews will assist the principal designer in helping the client understand their duties under CDM 2015, that to ignore advice being given can result in the client being held responsible if an incident were to take place from a hazard identified in the Design Safety Hazard Register.

Decisions not to carry out recommendations given in the Design Safety Hazard Register can be traced back, in the event that a serious incident was caused by design, years after the project’s completion.

Needless to say, the principal designer has a key role within all projects ranging from day to day maintenance term contracts through to civil engineering projects and new builds that are all subject to CDM 2015.

The principal designer’s role in removing and reducing hazards on site should not be overlooked.

It is their input at both design stage and throughout the construction phase that will best ensure serious incidents – those that can result in fatalities and/or long-term commercial reputation harm – are avoided.

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