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Managing Design Risk

The management of risk during the design process is essential for a project to be built safely and maintained safely. A common misconception amongst Designers, since the introduction of the CDM Regulations 2015, has been to think that the Design Risk Management process required them simply to identify the residual hazards in their designs, and to provide information so that others (usually the Principal Contractor) could deal with the risk issues. In fact, it is essential that Designers direct their actions towards reducing risks through design decisions or provisions. Only as a last resort should Designers rely on actions by the Principal Contractors on site to provide the means of protection for workers and others during work activities.

Managing safety during the design process can also make a big difference to the lives, health and well-being of those who work on the buildings and other structures. It affects construction workers, maintenance workers, the building users and members of the public.

Design considerations that will inform Design Risk Management:

  • What is being built? What should it look like, and what is the function?
  • Where is the project being built?
  • What materials will be used, and how will they be specified?
  • How will it be used?
  • How will it be built (risks to site workers, users and/or the general public)?
  • When will it be built, how long will it take to build (or how long does the Client want to allow)?
  • What are the constraints and circumstances affecting the design and construction?
  • Who else is designing this, and what elements or aspects are they addressing e.g. Temporary Works?
  • What is happening on the adjacent sites or areas?
  • What will actively be continuing to be done or used on the site during the construction phase?
  • Is this a structure that will be used as a workplace and/or used by the general public?
  • How will this structure or element be maintained (risk to site workers, maintainers, users and/or the general public)?
  • How will this structure be cleaned, accessed, altered, refurbished, removed or demolished?

Designers should critically assess their design proposals at an early stage, and then throughout the design process, to ensure that health and safety issues are identified, integrated into the overall design process and addressed as they go along. It is pointless to complete the design first, and then try to address the risks that the design has introduced. By then, all of the key decisions are likely to have been taken and no one will be willing to make any changes because of the time and cost involved.

Designers must (so far as reasonably practicable):

  • Identify foreseeable hazards, and particularly any significant risks affecting health and safety;
  • Eliminate hazards;
  • Minimise remaining identified risks by design;
  • Consider pre-fabrication to minimise work (e.g. pre-fabricated and pre-stressed concrete bridge beams);
  • Design in features to reduce risks, (i.e. from working at height, deep excavations…etc.;
  • Ensure that designs are suitable and compatible with any interacting or interrelating designs;
  • Take into account the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (and Amendments);
  • Provide information on significant risks associated with their design (e.g. information on drawings, suggested construction sequences, Temporary Works…);
  • Identify any future cleaning, maintenance, alteration and demolition hazards for the Health and Safety File.

Designers do not have to eliminate all risks, but if they let them remain they do need to justify this. They must identify foreseeable significant residual risks and communicate these clearly to others. The Principal Designer should ask questions and prompt the Designers to comply with good Design Risk Management and the intentions of CDM 2015.

In taking account of the General Principles of Prevention, Designers are required to assess the risks implicit in their designs. Design Risk Assessments are a good tool for Designers to document their process and reasoning.

It is the Principal Designer’s duty to ensure, so far as reasonably practicable, that information is being passed onto those who need it, when they need it – even though they may not know they need it – including what is needed by the Client, other Designers, those tendering, the Principal Contractor and, if necessary, other Contractors. A Project Design Risk Register helps the Principal Designer and the design team to demonstrate this.

Safety For Design Ltd has many years of experience in Design Risk Management. Contact us today to bring our valuable experience to help deliver your construction projects safely.


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