The real cost of neglecting principal design on building extensions

Fines for not following health and safety in construction can go into the hundreds of thousands of pounds even if there is no accident, but when extending a building there is the added complication of current inhabitants.

The new Construction Design Management Regulations (CDM) were put into place in 2015 and enforced a greater emphasis on accountability from the conception stage all the way through to the finalization of a project, yet there have been a number of high profile cases where workers and members of the public have been put at risk since then.

In early 2016 concerns were raised about the lack of health and safety controls at a large timber frame extension being built onto a residential home in Exmouth.  Inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive visited the site and found a number of health and safety breaches, including uncontrolled high-risk activities that put workers at risk of death, serious injuries or ill health. This included falls from height, fire, slips and trips and badly controlled wood dust.

Perhaps worse, as this was an extension there were inhabitants still at the premises, so 80 physically and/or mentally impaired residents were put at risk due to the possibility of fire spreading into the home.

Unsurprisingly the construction company involved were fined, but more significantly for this purpose so were the architects involved, as the legally responsible Principal Designer on the project.  Whilst they were involved in the design of the building and not the actual building of it, the responsibility of health and safety is now spread much further than just a supervisor on-site with a clipboard tick list.

How a principal designer reduces the risks

Architects taking on the role of principal designer might make them more responsible and liable, but it also gives them more control.  In setting the standards in health and safety at the design stage they not only reduce the risk of fines or worse, injury or loss of life, but they also set the standard expected by those involved.

The real cost may seem monetary and this number would no doubt have been so much higher if someone had been injured or killed.  In fact, the real cost is ethical.  In this example, very vulnerable members of the public were at risk but even in an event where members of the public aren’t involved, more vulnerable team members such as apprentices and trainees could be at risk if standards aren’t maintained.

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