Construction Design and Management (CDM) and Self Build

Jonathan Rensink explains how CDM (Construction Design and Management) applies to selfbuilders

On site health and safety is important

Thirty workers lost their lives on building sites last year. While that doesn’t put construction top of the Health and Safety Executive’s fatality leader board, it still makes the podium. Building sites, large or small, are by nature hazardous and as a sefbuilder it’s vital to make sure you are doing everything within your power to keep yourself – and anyone who works on your property – safe.

The CDM 2015 Regulations, which stands for Construction Design and Management, aim to make health and safety an essential and integral part of the design, planning and management of any project.

They identify, eliminate or control, as far as is reasonably practical, risk to the health and safety of any person working on the construction, affected by it or who will use or maintain the structure once completed. But do the same health and safety rules and regulations that apply to big time developers, really apply to selfbuilders too? The short answer is, in most cases, yes.

When does it apply?

CDM 2015 applies to any building project where one or more are employed to carry out work.

The key word is ‘employed’. So, if a selfbuilder does all the work on their project themselves and subsequently moves into the finished property, the build is classed as a DIY project. CDM 2015 doesn’t apply because no one involved is ‘at work’ (as defined by the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974).

As soon as someone is employed to work on a project, CDM 2015 regulations kick in.

Under this legislation, legal responsibilities or duties for health and safety lie with different duty holders:

  • the client (domestic and commercial)
  • the designer
  • the principal designer
  • the principal contractor
  • contractors, and
  • workers.

Selfbuilders initially come under the client category.

Client – commercial

If you plan to sell the property on completion or you are carrying out the work for a business purpose, you are classed as a commercial client and as such have full responsibility for CDM 2015 client duties.

Client – domestic

If you are building a home for yourself, and it is not built as part of a business, you are classified as a domestic client.

Domestic clients fall broadly into two camps:

1. Selfbuilders who appoint others to help them

On a very small project this might be a single contractor to design (designer) or carry out construction work (contractor).

On larger contracts with multiple contractors this would be a principal designer for the planning stage of the build (pre-construction) and/or a principal contractor for the construction phase of the project.

By simply making these appointments, the selfbuilder will have fulfilled their legal duties as a domestic client under CDM 2015 as, once appointed, either the designer or contractor will assume the domestic client’s duties in addition to their own.

2: Selfbuilders who project manage their own project

This type of selfbuilder is also classed as a domestic client but does have duties under CDM 2015 because they are employing trades directly and are controlling/coordinating the work on site. Here, they will be expected to show sufficient health and safety capability to meet the requirements of Part 4 of CDM 2015.

Working at height is just one potential hazard on a construction site.

This addresses both good practice on construction sites – for example, appropriate welfare facilities (ie, toilets, and somewhere warm and dry for breaks), site security, and emergency procedures, together with more exacting requirements like reports of inspections, demolition, stability of structures, traffic routes, fire detection and firefighting.

These duties will be proportional to the degree of control they have over the work taking place on site, focusing on the coordination and management of the project, rather than the direct supervision of contractors. They would be entitled to expect individual contractors to plan, monitor and manage their own work in compliance with the CDM regulations.

Construction Phase Plan (CPP)

CDM 2015 requires every project to have a CPP in place before construction starts. In the situation where the client has appointed someone else to manage the project, this duty will pass to the contractor who will draw up the plan based on information provided by the client and designer.

Selfbuilders project managing their own build are responsible for drawing up the CPP themselves.

This records the arrangements for managing health and safety risks associated with the construction and provides the basis for communicating this essential information to all those involved. The CPP should be as simple as possible and reviewed, updated and revised as the project progresses.

Appointing your team

Larger building contractors and professionals such as architects, building surveyors and engineers are likely to be aware of the importance of CDM 2015 and the relevant roles and responsibilities – many of them have their own health and safety departments.

Smaller building firms, as well as designers, that focus solely on small domestic projects may not be as well informed. Therefore, it is vital for selfbuilders to select their designer and contractor with care, making sensible enquiries about their experience and capabilities in health and safety management.

Membership of a professional body and accreditations in Construction Health and Safety Risk Management would indicate they have the right sort of experience, as well as of course, training specific to CDM 2015. If you decide to manage your build with little experience of construction project management and site safety, then I would strongly suggest seeking professional advice.

Why it’s important

As mentioned above, building sites are potentially hazardous – whether it’s asbestos identification and removal, working at height, correct use of tools or trip hazards – the list goes on.

Complying with CDM 2015 will mean you have done all you can to ensure your site is safe – the foundation of a successful self build. Non-compliance could see you breaking the law and potentially adding to those grim HSE statistics.

Jonathan Rensink is an adviser with Daniel Connal Partnership


For more information see HSE:

Although not directly associated with safety, having the right insurance is essential, even on safe, wellorganised jobs. Without insurance you are exposing yourself to possible bankruptcy; claims for quite small injuries can run into thousands of pounds.

See SelfBuild & Design Quick Guide to Insurance & Warranties »

This Beginner's Guide to Heath & Safety is from the February 2020 issue of SelfBuild & Design magazine.

See other content February 2020 magazine »


See other Next Steps Guides »