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CROSS Safety Report

Ensuring CDM safety files are transferred after change of ownership

Report ID: 581 Published: 1 January 2017 Region: CROSS-UK

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Concerns are raised that there is no effective system in place to ensure CDM safety files are passed on to new owners when properties change hands.

Key Learning Outcomes

For policy makers:

  • Consider introducing a system that will ensure CDM safety files are part of the transaction when property changes ownership

For civil and structural design engineers:

Full Report

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The Full Report below has been submitted to CROSS and describes the reporter’s experience. The text has been edited for clarity and to ensure anonymity and confidentiality by removing any identifiable details. If you would like to know more about our secure reporting process or submit a report yourself, please visit the reporting to CROSS-UK page.


The whole point of the safety files prescribed under the CDM Regulations 2015 (CDM2015), says a reporter, is that they shall be of assistance in the future, to owners and operators of buildings and other structures. They are not simply a chore to be signed off at the end of a complicated job. Many vital components are hidden on completion, particularly elements such as electricity cables, pre-stressing tendons, foundations, and the accurate location of services, or even culverts running beneath buildings.

Difficulties arise when properties change hands, because there is no effective system to see that these details are passed on to the new owners. Legally the owner disposing of a property possessing a safety file is obliged to transfer it, but the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) does not have the resources to prosecute.

The Law Society has a very complicated form to be completed when a property is sold, this covers things as detailed as 'how much central heating oil is in the tank and are the light bulbs included?' Suggestions were put forward by the reporter some time ago to the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) and the HSE that the property transfer form should be altered to include the CDM safety files, but nothing has happened yet so far as he knows.

Expert Panel Comments

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This contribution reflects a general theme that as time moves on, people forget what the prime purpose of an activity was in the first place. A number of CROSS contributions over the years show the danger of owners altering structures without realising the implications simply by lack of knowledge of not knowing what is there. Passing on to each owner details about the fabric of a building makes obvious sense.

A number of CROSS contributions over the years show the danger of owners altering structures without realising the implications simply by lack of knowledge of not knowing what is there

More formally, CDM files are legal documents to be prepared, maintained, and passed on to clients. Full details are given in the HSE document: Managing health and safety in construction, Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. An extract from Appendix 4 of this document says:

The health and safety file is defined as a file appropriate to the characteristics of the project, containing relevant health and safety information to be taken into account during any subsequent project. The file is only required for projects involving more than one contractor. The file must contain information about the current project likely to be needed to ensure health and safety during any subsequent work, such as maintenance, cleaning, refurbishment or demolition.’

For the structural engineer the principal factor is that there should be sufficient accurate information to help when maintenance, modifications or de-commissioning are proposed. Structural engineers as well as other duty holders should, as a matter of good practice, draw the attention of their clients in a specific manner to this key responsibility in respect of the handover of the health & safety file. As a next step, following on from this report, HSE, ICE and IStructE will consider how the matter can be progressed.

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