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CDM2015 - Six months on

Guest blog by Lee Holloway

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Back in March we ran an event to discuss how the new CDM legislation was likely to affect event planners. We have continued to follow the developments in this area and in this guest blog Lee Holloway advises event industry organisations to take a second look at the new legislation.

First, I'd like to say a thank you to John for his invitation to write a guest post on CDM and for his efforts over the past year to engage with different parts of the events industry and enthusiastically myth-bust where the opportunity has presented itself. The topic has proven to be quite a magnet for scaremongering, half thought out guidances and wild generalisations, mashed together of course with some really good insight and work by many of those in the industry for whom most of the legislation is very familiar and all part of a normal days' work. John's one of a few voices out there trying to calm it all down, so well done to him.

Six months on from the enforcement of the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2015 across the events and entertainment sectors, I would say we have seen some mixed results alongside the mixed messages.

Some quite high profile "industry wide" guidance materials have sadly been factually incorrect yet loudly publicised anyway, through media, Linkedin, roadshows and I'm expecting leaflets and a text campaign to start at any point! This has contributed to some significant confusion in the exhibitions sector, typically official contractors being asked for Construction Phase Plans by exhibition organisers that should have been preparing these themselves.

In addition, large parts of the legislation were not referenced in guidance materials at all with certain parts, those dealing with excavations for example, highly relevant to larger outdoor events.

Mix ups with the roles and responsibilities defined in CDM have not been helped by the fact that the HSE's sector specific guidance has not been officially published yet. I have seen the draft 2 of this material and it is of a very high standard and easy to understand and it's a real shame its not public domain yet. If it were published already perhaps there would have been be fewer independent stabs at "translating" the regulations – I would hope that these initiatives will fall aside once the HSE's own guidance does become official.

There has also, unfortunately, been a lot of discussion about PPE. This isn't a focus of CDM at all, and safety advisers including me spent most of 2014 trying to reassure everyone that more stringent PPE requirements wouldn't result if CDM was enforced on events. Sadly, however, some organisations in the industry have used CDM as a catalyst for introducing – yes, you've guessed it – additional PPE requirements and - not always with a clear or justifiable aim. One set of rules I saw for example required custom build contractors to wear high viz vests whilst official contractors and general site personnel were not obligated to – because, the rules said, custom build activity was higher risk. Clearly, whether this is the case or not, there is no obvious connection with the need to wear a high viz vest, unless it is so everyone else can get a better view of the guy painting the fascia as he falls off his poorly erected scaffold tower. I do genuinely think it's a coincidence that high viz are now being sold in some locations across the industry, but many won't think so and if this is their first introduction to health and safety enforcement when they engage in an event build-up it is going to invoke cynicism and a closed attitude to other more serious health and safety rules and provisions.

Perhaps telling indicators of where we are on CDM in the events arena are two forum-based discussions I've been involved with recently.

The first platformed contrasting views on whether event break down times were sufficient and what should be done about them if they were not. This is a real CDM issue because Clients have a duty to ensure adequate resources, including time, are available to a piece of construction activity and designers and contractors should only engage if they are satisfied that the resources are sufficient, designing their approach appropriately to fit the resources. Now, particularly in the exhibition sector this is a complicated topic, because sometimes there are sufficient build and break times and sometimes there are not – and when they're not, fault can just as easily be assigned to the organiser, venue, official contractor or the stand builder, depending on a number of variables in a given situation. It's not cut and dry at all. The debate kind of deteriorated a little though with politics and commercials creeping in, with nobody prepared to accept any accountability for the issue or to agree that they to some extent had individual power or influence to do something about it themselves.

The second discussion was about contractor competency, which again became commercial and political because some member organisations in the events industry present themselves as "standards driven", with "strict member admission criteria" – however not all of these organisations are what they seem. To join some, you don't even need to show as much as a health and safety policy. But, many have a lot invested in these member organisations and it is difficult to be honest about their real health and safety value to potential buyers without attracting a certain kind of reaction which I won't go into in this piece.

The common thread I think is that CDM in the events industry could have been and still could be relatively straight forward for everyone – and could be a force for real improvement and transparency in the way we work. But, it doesn't translate easily into one size fits all, simplified generalisations that might, to complicate things further still, be factually incorrect or commercially influenced in some way. I'd suggest we each need to take a look at the legislation ourselves, as individual organisations, and look at how we can interpret it accurately but proportionately in a way that specifically suits what we do on a one to one basis. Get a qualified health and safety adviser to help you – yes, I know this is self-promotion but its why guys like me spent years getting a degree level qualification in the topic – don't rely on hearsay and political, industry wide, or official information because, unless your advice and guidance comes from a credible source that can show proper qualification, you will be left quite vulnerable if you are prosecuted. A little investment in appointing competent health and safety assistance (a specific legal requirement you have that you might not be aware of) at the beginning of this new CDM health and safety regime is likely to do you a whole lot of good in the future.

Lee is a chartered member of IOSH, owner at www.fpl.uk.com and joint founder of the Event Contractors Safety Register www.ecsr.uk.com