By Martin Cox, Head of CDM/H&S services at design, property and construction consultancy Pellings
CDM is an acronym for Construction Design Management and is the legislation covering all construction work.
For the last two years, I have been giving presentations on CDM 2015 and how it affects clients. These include all types of educational establishments from primary schools to universities, and it never ceases to amaze me how little they know about the subject and the perils that they are potentially putting themselves in. There are now greater punishments for health and safety offences, and in extreme cases offenders may face the provisions of the Corporate Manslaughter Act, leading to prison sentences.
Since 2015, there has been a considerable tightening up of health and safety rules on the renovation, extension and rebuilding of schools with head-teachers, governors and even trustees now firmly in the liability spotlight.
This is of even more concern with the Government firmly behind the expansion of free schools and academies.
Prior to the CDM regulation changes in 2015 liability normally lay with the architect or contractor but this has now been changed to make the role of the client more specific in this respect
Prior to the CDM regulation changes in 2015 liability normally lay with the architect or contractor but this has now been changed to make the role of the client more specific in this respect.
The problem is that many school’s governance boards are not aware of what CDM means let alone how it is applied and the implications if something goes wrong on their site. So, how do they protect themselves and get the best result for their restricted funds, and where do they go for the help and advice they need?
Last year, Pellings was invited by a London borough to participate in a scheme to raise health & safety awareness in schools. The headteachers and caretakers from over 90 schools which included local authority run schools, Academies and Free Schools, attended half day sessions where presentations were given along with team sessions which gave attendees a chance to talk with others about health and safety issues, some of which were very low on their list of priorities.
Positive feedback was given by everyone at the sessions and, as a result, the programme was later given to school governors, many of whom again had little knowledge of the health & safety legislation.
A key complication is that in handing over to Free Schools and Academies there is often a paucity of documentation on existing buildings covering areas like architectural plans and information on layout of services including water, gas and electricity. These may have been lost or have never existed.
Another overriding factor that seems to be given little credence across all educational projects is that of contractor selection. This regularly raises its head in the form of competency for the role, with contracts often being awarded to the cheapest quote or to a friend of the academic requiring the work to be done, or just not knowing where to go to seek the help of appropriate firms.
When all schools came under the local education authority, this was easy as there were frameworks and lists of approved contractors to go to. With Free Schools and Academies, very few have access to these bodies. This not only includes builders, plumbers and other trades, but where to go for specialist advice such as structural engineers, fire engineers, Principal Designers etc.
Isn’t it about time that these small groups of educational establishments started pooling resources and forming co-operatives that help them to get the best for their money by getting competitive quotes, competent advice and - perhaps most importantly - becoming 100% legal?
School heads and governing bodies need to apprise themselves of the upgrade in their responsibilities since the CDM 2015 changes came into effect. They need to be properly advised to minimise the possibility of an incident, or even a tragedy becoming a court case where they are the accused.
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