Building Safety Act | December 13, 2023

Navigating the Building Safety Act 2022: Demystifying Principal Designer and Principal Contractor Roles Part 2 – Principal Designer Competency Requirements

In Part 1 we introduced the new Principal Designer and Principal Contractor roles in the Building Safety Act 2022 (BSA) in contrast to those roles under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM Regulations).

In this Part 2 we examine what is meant by competency in relation to Principal Designers under the operative secondary legislation namely the Building Regulations etc. (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2023 (BRAE Regulations) which amend the Building Regulations 2010.

1. What is meant by “competence” in relation to Principal Designers?

Competence is defined: where the person is a) an individual with the skills, knowledge, experience and behaviours necessary, and b) where the person is not an individual, the organisational capability, to carry out the building and design work in accordance with all relevant requirements.

The minimum level of competence is defined broadly in the BRAE Regulations and supported by PAS 8671 (which can be downloaded for free here) for Principal Designers which gives guidance on the competency framework.

PAS 8671 states that it is specifically written and published for use by competence assessors and awarding bodies. In this way, it can be used to amend existing frameworks, syllabuses, learning pathways or assessment criteria, or to develop new ones, so that these systems are in line with the new regulatory framework.

When a system is in line with the guidance in PAS 8671, it should give confidence that those being assessed are being tested and reviewed against the minimum required thresholds and it can be used to assess whether a proposed Principal Designer has the requisite skill, knowledge and behaviours necessary to carry out the relevant role.

PAS 8671 provides that the acceptable levels of competence for Principal Designers specifically are governed by two factors:

  • the organisational capability of the Principal Designer (noting that an individual Principal Designer may not have as much capability across many designer disciplines as an organisation with many departments); and
  • the specific demands of a project (the bigger and more complex a project, the higher the level of competence is required).

2. How is competence assessed for Principal Designers?

PAS 8671 indicates that a Principal Designer should be able to demonstrate competence to work on design work by applying competencies in four categories as a minimum threshold.

These four categories are:

1. Behavioural competenceMust demonstrate behaviour in compliance with their legal duties and the “behavioural competences” as laid out by the BSI Flex 8670 or any related code of professional conduct in line with the BSI Flex 8670 (which can be downloaded for free here). PAS 8671 lists specific competencies which demonstrate behavioural competence.
2. Legislative and regulatory framework for complianceMust apply the legislative and regulatory framework in relation to how designers and design work meet legal requirements. This framework includes the Building Act 1984, the BSA, the CDM Regulations and the Building Regulations. The specific competencies that the PAS 8671 lists which are needed to demonstrate this relate to understanding a) the duties and behaviours required, the purpose, structure and scope of the legislative and regulatory framework and b) understanding how to find and apply the relevant information in the legislative and regulatory framework.
3. Management of design work complianceShould be able to manage, monitor and coordinate designers and design work in relation to compliance. The specific competencies are:

a) The ability to demonstrate understanding of a project and its requirements, specifically how this can impact or affect design work compliance, and the effect on designers’ duties and contracted responsibilities in light of the details of the project;

b) The ability to strategise effectively, analyse, manage and monitor gaps in designers’ competence and identified risks to compliance, and control changes affecting design work compliance; and

c) The ability to manage the recording and maintenance of evidence of design work compliance.
4. Technical framework for complianceShould understand general principles of building design, construction and the “core criteria for building safety” set out in the BSI Flex 8670 so they can assess, manage and appraise evidence of design work compliance in order to build design team consensus on compliance. They are not expected to be experts on all specifications of design, but to be prepared to consult specialists when necessary.

Specific competencies relating to this comprise being able to understand the purpose, scope and structure of the technical framework, how to find and apply the relevant information contained in it and how to use information management systems effectively to maintain design work compliance.

For the most recent summary of the competency requirements for Principal Designers see the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘Design and building work: meeting building requirements’ guidance (accessible here).

3. Are there additional competency requirements for Higher-Risk Buildings?

Yes. PAS 8671 sets out additional competencies that apply to Principal Designers working on “Higher Risk Buildings” (HRBs) as defined in s 120D of the Building Act 1984 (as amended by the BSA) and the Higher-Risk Buildings (Description and Supplementary Provisions) Regulation 2023.

1. Legislative and regulatory framework for complianceMust be able to understand the specific legislative and regulatory framework relating to designing HRBs and evaluate the ways this could affect other dutyholders’ own duties and compliance in the context of HRB projects.
2. Management of design work complianceMust be able to evaluate the procedures related to working on HRBs and their effect on their duties, evaluate ways to establish and maintain a system for inspecting and reporting on safety occurrences, and ensure that the people responsible for reporting are properly instructed on mandatory safety occurrence reporting for HRBs.
3. Technical framework for complianceThere is an enhanced responsibility regarding HRBs to:

a) evaluating safety risk in relation to mandatory safety occurrence reporting and assessing any new safety risks during inspections of design work throughout construction;

b) evaluating prescribed procedures to ensure design work compliance; and

c) using information management systems.


In light of the new legislative regime, organisations, businesses and individuals intending to provide the Principal Designer role should assess their current capabilities carefully to evaluate whether they are able to fulfil the prescribed duties and competencies required.

Any gaps in competence should be recorded and targeted for training. Although there is no requirement for individuals or organisations to undergo formal training, doing so through independent certification or qualification may inspire confidence in clients, co-workers and insurers. In any event, those offering their services as Principal Designers must be prepared to demonstrate to a prospective client that, having regard to the specific competencies and requirements, they are able properly to fulfil the role. There is also a duty on clients employing them to investigate and be satisfied that any individual or organisation it engages is competent to carry out that role (see Part 4 for more detail on the clients role and duties).

In Part 3 we will examine what is meant by competency in relation to Principal Contractors for the purpose of the BRAE Regulations.