What is a Principal Designer ?

The role of the Principal Designer is an important one. It is set out in law and you as the client are responsible for ensuring that they are appointed, but unless you are involved in the construction industry you are unlikely to know who they are and importantly, what they do.

You may have engaged an Architect or a Designer to prepare documents for your project and you may have assumed that they will deal with all of this. Don’t make this mistake, they may not be able to provide the same service as that of a Principal Designer.


 Principal designer on scaffold


What is a Principal Designer ?

The Principal Designer takes on responsibility of health and safety during the design and construction of your project. They will help to identify, eliminate and reduce hazards throughout the design process making buildings safer to build, safer to use by the occupants and safer for those who have to maintain and repair your building in the future.  They will be able to advise you on the procedures that need to be followed at each stage of your project.

A Principal Designer, must have undertaken specific training for this role, have appropriate experience and carry relevant insurance specific to this role. Some architects, such as ourselves, are able to offer this service, many are not.

The Principal Designer and architectural services could be carried out by separate firms, with the Principal Designer providing support to your preferred designer or architect. This is common on large projects but for smaller projects may be less cost effective than engaging one practice to provide a combined service.


Why is it so important ?

Unfortunately, it is common for people to pour scorn on the role of Health and Safety in construction. Dismissing it as an inconvenience, an unnecessary cost burden. To put this into perspective, prior to the introduction of CDM Regulations in 1995, there were over 200 fatalities every year within the construction industry. That is 200 families deprived of a parent, a brother or a sister.

Thankfully, since the introduction of the regulations, there has been a significant improvement. In 2016/17 there were 60,000 non-fatal injuries and 30 deaths within the construction sector.


 graph illustrating reduction in number deaths in construction


Until recently, smaller works were not subject to the controls applied to commercial projects, but in 2015 this changed. Now even small must follow rigorous procedures.


Actions You Can Take

If you are planning a project in 2018, here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.

  • Read the client guide prepared by the Health and Safety Executive which explains your duties and responsibilities as a client. Click here to download a copy.
  • Appoint your Principal Designer first. When making enquiries with potential service providers, ask if they able to provide the Principal Designer service.
  • If someone tries to convince your that this is not important, walk away. Everyone offering services relating to construction, is required to ensure that you are aware of your responsibilities in relation to Health and Safety. Beware, there are people offering advice and services, that are unaware of their own responsibilities in relation to safety and may even try to convince you that it does not apply or that it is not necessary.
  • Ensure that everyone involved in your project provides you with written agreements prior to starting. These should confirm the Principal Designers role and how everyone involved in the project will work with the Principal Designer to ensure that the procedures and duties are completed properly.


If you have not engaged a Principal Designer in writing, you as the client, may be legally responsible for Health and Safety in relation to your project. It will be your responsibility for ensuring that the duties and procedures set out in the regulations are carried out. You may be required to give an account of your actions, should there ever be an investigation relating to an accident during either construction or future maintenance of the building.


MAAC studio are accredited conservation architects and principal designers working with traditional buildings throughout the North of Scotland.

If you need independent advice give us a call ?