Planning supervisors were supposed to ensure that safety was designed into the construction process. But the regulations that created the role simply don't work
The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 came into force on 21 March 1995 to give effect to European legislation. On the basis that "prevention is better than cure", the regulations set out to ensure that buildings and structures can be constructed, maintained and demolished safely. This is achieved by designing safety into the construction process from the outset.

The impetus for the regulations was provided by a 1991 European Commission report, From Drawing Board to Building Site.* This report stated: "About 60% of fatal accidents on building sites arise from decisions made upstream of the site." The 60% statistic is quoted again in the DTI's recently published document Constructing the Future.

In all likelihood this statistic has not changed. In fact, it may even be higher. As Sir John Egan's strategic forum is implying, the CDM Regulations do not appear to have achieved anything apart from providing some lucrative work for those who have taken on the role of "planning supervisor" (the planning supervisor's role is to oversee the planning and design processes to ensure that health and safety risks are minimised).

Why has CDM failed? It was introduced to promote a holistic approach to health and safety. Instead, it reinforces or reflects contractual demarcation. Take the health and safety plan, for example. This is begun by the planning supervisor in consultation with the client and its designers. Its primary purpose is to identify the risks to health and safety likely to be encountered during construction work. The health and safety plan is then handed over to the principal contractor to develop by incorporating information on the management and prevention of health and safety risks on site.

The plan is further diluted by bad practice. For example, subcontractors are often asked to prepare their own health and safety plans without having seen the supervisor's plan. If we are to have a holistic approach, responsibility for the health and safety plan should lie with one party from early pre-planning through to construction on the site and even on to maintenance.

Responsibility for the health and safety plan should lie with one party from planning through to construction

One of the planning supervisor's most important duties is to take reasonable steps to ensure co-operation between designers. Now, this must mean that there has to be a dialogue between all designers (whether consultants, contractors or manufacturers) working together as a team. In other words, early supply-chain integration is required – yet it rarely happens. In fact, traditional procurement, contractual and insurance arrangements create barriers to this. Subcontractors are often forbidden to talk to consultants. Key specialists are not often appointed in good time to be able to have a dialogue with consultants during pre-planning and design stages. Manufacturers are ignored. Additionally, insurers take a dim view of the insured offering advice that may not be strictly in accordance with their contractual duties. The consequence is that planning supervisors are given an impossible job.

The regulations require that those appointing designers and contractors should be reasonably satisfied that they are competent to discharge their health and safety responsibilities. What does "competent" mean? The regulations do not contain any reference point that allows for effective enforcement – a fundamental weakness. CDM should require that all designers and contractors are qualified under independently accredited qualification schemes or are qualified under the national scheme run by Constructionline (assuming that the latter achieves better credibility than it does now).

The Health and Safety Executive should rewrite these regulations. Essentially, this means insisting on having a qualified integrated team (including consultants, contractors, manufacturers and facilities managers) in place at the outset to develop the design and do the necessary pre-planning.