25th August, 2020

CDM 2015 Client Duties Explained

CDM 2015 gives clients a number of responsibilities or duties. These legal CDM requirements must be completed by clients on every construction project, of any size and any duration. In this post, we summarise CDM client duties and find out what these responsibilities are, and why clients have them.

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A client is anyone having construction work carried out. Clients are one of the five key duty holders under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations (CDM) 2015. Every construction client should know about their legal duties under CDM. But it might surprise you to know that even if you're not a client, if you're a contractor or designer, you need to know about CDM client duties too.

Client responsibilities were increased in this latest version of the regulations, giving this important duty holder more requirements to comply with. And CDM client duties apply on every construction project*. Yes, every project, no matter the size or duration. Knowing your duties if you're involved in any kind of construction work is crucial to stay on the right side of the law.

*Apart from domestic clients. Having work done on your own or family home and not in relation to any business? You are a domestic client under CDM. CDM still applies but some domestic client duties are transferred to other members of the team. Find out more about domestic clients.

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Let's take a moment to repeat this important part. CDM client duties apply on every project. In fact, CDM doesn't just apply to what you might think of as a project. It applies to all construction work. And the definition of construction work covered by CDM is pretty wide. The size and length of the work doesn't matter. If you're having any type of construction work carried out, you have health and safety responsibilities as a client under CDM.

Who is the client?

The client is defined in the CDM regulations as "any person for whom a project is carried out". This could be a single person, a group of people, even a business. The client is usually the person instructing contractors and designers, and deciding what work will be done. Importantly, this is usually the person paying for the work to be done.

CDM 2015 defines a client as anyone for whom a construction project is carried out[...] This definition includes both non-domestic (or ‘commercial’) clients and ‘domestic’ clients (ie clients for whom a construction project is carried out which is not done in connection with a business).

What are CDM client duties?

Clients have quite a few duties under CDM 2015, which is the latest version of the CDM Regulations in the UK. In fact, CDM 2015 introduced more duties to clients than any previous version of the regulations. Because as a client, you are important!

While clients are not responsible for managing their construction project directly, they are responsible for making suitable arrangements for managing the project. This is broken down into a number of specific duties under CDM, including duties to:

That's quite a few duties for the client to carry out! And many of these CDM client responsibilities need to be completed before any work begins on site. This doesn't mean that clients need to actually manage the project. But they do need to make arrangements for the management of the project.

The first duty of the client under CDM 2015 is to make suitable arrangements for managing a project. This includes allocating sufficient time and other resources. This doesn't mean that clients need to actually manage the project. But they do need to make arrangements for the management of the project.

Arrangements also include ensuring that welfare facilities are provided. And that the construction work can be carried out without risks to the health or safety of any person affected by the project.

The client must also provide pre-construction information to every designer and contractor appointed (or being considered for appointment), to the project. This is information on the project or site they might have from the purchase, previous work, or needed for this project.

A big change in CDM 2015 compared with CDM 2007 is the appointment of two key duty holders. The principal designer (new role) and the principal contractor. Previously, the client only needed to appoint the principal contractor role (and the old CDM coordinator role) on notifiable projects. Beyond appointment, the client must take reasonable steps to ensure that the principal designer and principal contractor also comply with their duties under CDM 2015.

Another big change under CDM 2015, is now the client is also responsible for notification. Previously under CDM 2007 this would be calculated and notified by the CDM coordinator. Where a project is notifiable, the client must give notice in writing to the HSE. This must be done as soon as is practicable before the construction phase begins.

If you need help with CDM client duties, get our free CDM client step-by-step guide for more support.

Why do clients have CDM duties?

It's a fair question. A lot of clients having construction work done don't necessarily know much about construction. For some, this is the first time they have heard about CDM. Why can't the contractor and architect take care of it all, isn't that what you pay them for?

The client is in control of payments, appointing the key members of the team, and influences the timeframes, deadlines and scope of the project. Clients are in overall control of the project. This is the main reason clients are included as a CDM duty holder (someone who must comply with CDM).

The client has a big influence on the health and safety of the project. First, they appoint two other key duty holders, the principal designer and the principal contractor. These duty holders have their own responsibilities under CDM 2015. Picking the right team with the right skills, knowledge and experience creates a safer site. And it's important to remember that if the Client fails to appoint these duty holders, they become responsible for those duties also.

The client ensures that the construction project is set up so that it is carried out from start to finish in a way that adequately controls the risks to the health and safety of those who may be affected.

They also control the budget and set the deadlines. If they set either of these unrealistically, they could force the team into cutting corners. This won't just impact health and safety, but also quality, on the project. Imagine if a client asks for a project to be carried out, but he needs it quickly, like yesterday. Seriously, can you start today? Plans? Let's just make it up as we go along! Is that allowing the contractor sufficient time to plan the work safely, carry out risk assessments and source a competent team? Of course not! This is why the client has a role to play in making sure there is enough time for the work to be planned safely.

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If there were no CDM client duties, could other duty holders comply with CDM? Probably not.

For example, what if the client wasn't required to appoint a principal contractor? There could be multiple contractors working on a project, without anyone in overall control, or coordinating health and safety matters between them. CDM Fail.

What if the client didn't need to provide pre-construction information to contractors and designers? The builder wouldn't know about or be able to plan for the removal of that highly hazardous asbestos insulation hidden in the roof void. CDM Fail.

Clients can also improve health and safety. Often, they will be much more familiar with the building or site than the rest of the project team. They might have information from previous projects or from the purchase of the property. They could have copies of surveys that have been carried out before. Clients may know some history of the site, and surrounding land uses. This information is valuable to the rest of the team when planning the work.

Who needs to know about CDM client duties?

Everyone needs to be aware of client duties under CDM, not just clients. When we say everyone, we mean everyone involved in construction projects. We don't mean that they should start teaching CDM client duties at primary school! But certainly, if you are involved in a construction project of any shape or size, even if you are not the client, you need to be aware of the CDM client duties.

It goes without saying that every construction client should know about their legal duties under CDM. After all, the client has to make sure they carry out their duties on the project. And as you can see in the list above, there are quite a few duties to be aware of. But if you're not a client, and you're a designer or a contractor for example, then you don't need to worry about client duties, right? After all, you have your own CDM duties to worry about. Wrong! You do need to know about CDM client duties. In fact, it is your duty to, under the very same regulations.

9.—(1) A designer must not commence work in relation to a project unless satisfied that the client is aware of the duties owed by the client under these Regulations.

15.—(1) A contractor must not carry out construction work in relation to a project unless satisfied that the client is aware of the duties owed by the client under these Regulations.

So, you see, even though you will have your own CDM contractor duties or CDM designer duties to comply with, one of these responsibilities is to be satisfied that the client is aware of their duties too. In addition to your duties, you must also be aware of the client duties, and make sure the client is aware of those duties.

CDM domestic clients

You might even need to assist the client with their CDM duties, CDM is a team game after all. Everyone works together to create a safer project. In some cases, you might even need to carry out the client duties, when you're not the client, as is the case for domestic clients.

7.—(1) Where the client is a domestic client the duties in regulations 4(1) to (7) and 6 must be carried out by—

  1. the contractor for a project where there is only one contractor;
  2. the principal contractor for a project where there is more than one contractor; or
  3. the principal designer where there is a written agreement that the principal designer will fulfil those duties.

To comply with CDM, everyone involved in the project, in some way, should be aware of the client duties, and make sure that the client is aware. Because if the client is not aware of their duties, and doesn't comply with them, then it's not just the client at fault. And this could lead to CDM breaches and fines, not just for the client, but also for contractors and designers involved with the project.

Even if you are only involved in the planning stages, or acting as a subcontractor, you must check that the client is aware of their duties before starting work on the project.

Who can help with CDM client responsibilities?

Clients can't transfer their responsibilities to anyone else. But there is help at hand. Clients can be assisted by other members of the project team. These are people like contractors and architect who may be much more familiar with construction work and the CDM requirements. The main source of help for clients will come from the principal designer, especially when gathering the pre-construction information and sharing it.

What if there are multiple clients? For example, a board of directors. Well, you have two options here. Work together, or nominate one (or more) point(s) of contact. All the clients can work together to discharge the CDM client duties for the project. Alternatively, one or more of the clients can agree in writing to be treated as the only client or clients. Those nominated will discharge the majority of the client duties on behalf of all the clients involved. It's important to note that even with this arrangement in place, all clients will still have duties regarding cooperation and providing information.

And remember, the client is just one of five duty holders under CDM. CDM is a team effort. The client will often be assisted with their duties by the principal designer on projects with more than one contractor.

CDM duty holders diagram with all 5 duty holders

In the diagram above, look at how all the information flows between each CDM duty holder. The client is at the top, sharing and receiving project health and safety information. The client needs information to be shared. They must make sure that the principal contractor (or contractor if only one) draws up the construction phase plan. They also need the principal designer to prepare the health and safety file.

Domestic clients get extra help. Unlike CDM 2007, duties apply to domestic clients under CDM 2015, however, their duties are usually transferred to another member of the project team. On a domestic project, client duties are automatically transferred to the:

Alternatively, on domestic projects, the domestic client can choose to have a written agreement with the principal designer to carry out the client duties.

As a client, CDM isn't something you can ignore. CDM client duties are a legal requirement. Even if this construction project is a one-off, and you don't plan to get involved in construction work again. You need to know your responsibilities.

If you need help with CDM client duties, get our free CDM client step-by-step guide for more support.

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This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.

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