A Principal Designer is an important part of a building project and a worthwhile addition to your team. Find out what they do and whether having one would benefit your build. 

What is a Principal Designer?

A principal designer is an individual or company (usually an architecture practice) that is appointed on a project to coordinate Health and Safety tasks prior to a build – the name is a bit of a misnomer, as they’re more of a Health and Safety manager rather than an architectural designer. 

Principal Designers are a legal requirement on projects involving more than one contractor, as they are in charge of all the Health and Safety aspects of everyone involved on the project, and their work is key to ensure that a build is compliant with national standards when complete. For that reason, you’ll need someone up-to-date with all the latest building standards and requirements, who is meticulous about their work. 

Some of their tasks involve:

  • Planning and monitoring the pre-construction phase
  • Identifying and collating Pre-Construction information
  • Providing designers, the Principal Contractor and other contractors with this information
  • Co-ordinating with the design team on significant H&S issues
  • Ensuring compliance with Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015
  • Attending design review meetings to monitor progress and raising awareness of potential health and safety risks
  • Liaising with and supporting the Principal Contractor for the duration of the appointment
  • Compiling the statutory health and safety file to be formally handed over at project completion

Does every build need a Principal Designer?

Any project involving more than one contractor requires a Principal Designer, who should be appointed by the client in writing to coordinate, control and monitor the Pre-Construction work processes, and should ideally be appointed as early as possible to have the greatest degree of control over and knowledge about a particular project.

Although the bulk of a PD’s job is completed before the build, it’s common to keep them on in an advisory role to liaise with the Principal Contractor, whose role is similar to the Principal Designer’s in risk management throughout the design process so that the build meets national standards.

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Why are Principal Designers so key on a construction project?

Under the 2015 CDM Regulations, the Principal Designer is required to establish a foundation of Health and Safety practices to be used throughout a project. If done correctly, this will ensure that a project meets Health and Safety standards when complete.

If you don’t appoint a PD in writing, you may well be legally responsible for the Health and Safety on your project, bearing the responsibility to ensure that the CDM regulation duties and procedures are carried out. 

That means that if there’s an accident during construction or building maintenance, you may be liable. Appointing a Principal Designer means that there is someone qualified enough to inspect all the Health and Safety aspects on a project and ensure that they meet national standards. That way, your project is covered and it’s easier to insure. 

Doesn’t the Architect deal with this Principal Designer work?

Architects can and often do deal with this Health & Safety management, but it also requires specialist knowledge and plenty of experience, and is not automatically included as part of an architect’s work. 

A Principal Designer is someone with the right skills, knowledge and experience in H&S management, and therefore doesn’t have to be an architect. Indeed, on larger projects with greater complexities, Principal Designer services and architectural services are often carried out by separate firms, with the Principal Designer supporting your chosen architect.

For smaller residential projects, your architect will often take this role on, provided they have the appropriate level of skills, knowledge and experience. However, this isn’t part of your architect’s ‘general responsibilities’, so you’ll have to appoint them specifically to carry these duties.

How long should a Principal Designer be appointed for?

A Principal Designer completes most of their work prior to construction, and should be kept on to oversee progress during building in case any design issues are modified and the Health and Safety aspects need revising. It is possible for a Principal Designer to hand duties over to the Principal Contractor on smaller and medium-size projects, but there are specific protocols for this to ensure that standards are maintained until the end of the project.

Get the experts in to make sure your build complies

With over 10 years’ experience in principal design work and project manangement, our experts can help you ensure that your project is up to scratch. Whichever stage you’re at in your build, if you think you might need a principal designer, drop us a line and we’ll be able to give you some clarity on your needs. Give us a call on 0121 455 0032 or write us a message in the form at the bottom of the page. Let’s get your project started! 

Why Lapworth Architects?


Our 20+ years of work mean great design and good relationships with planning departments across the region, giving  our projects the best chance to get planning permission and start building.


Your budget is tailored to your needs so you’re always on top of your costs. We’re proud to offer excellent value for money for our services, from design and planning right through to build.


Our breadth of knowledge makes us an efficient and sustainable choice of local architect, and we have a vested interest in improving our built environment right here in the West Midlands.


Wherever you are with your project, if you’re looking for honest, quality advice from professionals, chat to us, leave us a message or call us on the number at the top of the page. Let’s talk!