Member profile: ‘I like the Columbo part – just one more question…’

Kevin Bainbridge WSP
Kevin Bainbridge, WSP

As a principal consultant for WSP Kevin Bainbridge enjoys a broad range of work including delivery of CDM services for water and acting as a CDM adviser for clients. He tells Denise Chevin about his career.

Kevin Bainbridge is a principal consultant for WSP, the Canadian-owned multidisciplinary practice which is one of the world’s largest built environment consultancies. As part of his role Kevin is CDM technical lead for water – asset design, which gives him responsibility for the delivery of CDM services for that part of the water sector. He was chair of the APS Northern Regional Committee for four years. 

What does your job at WSP entail on a day-to-day basis?

I’m either involved in projects where WSP is the principal designer or I’m involved with principal designer assist services to companies which are appointed principal designer but don’t have the in-house capability. I also act as a CDM adviser for clients, to assist with their duties on projects.

How did you get into this line of work?

I grew up in Shiney Row, Houghton-le-Spring. I studied architectural technology at Northumbria University in Newcastle and did a student placement with Sunderland City Council (SCC) building control from 2002-04. Then I got architectural technology roles in a few private practices, which included contract administration responsibilities. 

At the time of the recession I found myself in a building surveying role back at SCC in the building maintenance section, mainly for education buildings, doing more design and contract administration of projects.

The council wanted all its building surveyors to obtain a NEBOSH construction certificate. And that was how I first ended up getting the health and safety qualification. 

Then there was talk of designers being given more responsibilities within a forthcoming revision of the CDM regs. I wanted more knowledge and experience of how CDM worked and managed to get an assistant CDM coordinator role with Faithful+Gould.

Kevin Bainbridge CV

2022 to present: Principal consultant (CDM), WSP
2017-22: Principal consultant (CDM), Wood Environment and Infrastructure (acquired by WSP 2022)
2017: Principal consultant (CDM), Amec Foster Wheeler (acquired by Wood Environment and Infrastructure in 2017)
2015-17: Health and safety consultant, Faithful+Gould
2014-15: Assistant CDM coordinator, Faithful+Gould
2012-13: Architectural technologist, Building Design Solutions (NE)
2010-12: Building surveyor, Sunderland City Council
2007-09: Architectural technologist, Dunwoodie Architects
2005-07: Architectural technician, South Tyneside Council,
2004-05: Architectural technician, Nicholson Nairn Architects
2002-04: Building control officer (student placement), Sunderland City Council

Throughout my career, I continued to pursue my studies. I started with an HND in architectural technology in 2000 then got a degree in it at Northumbria University in 2005 and in 2009 took a masters in project management at the same university. 

That was all part-time studying while I continued working, spanning my time at South Tyneside Council and Dunwoodie Architects.

I achieved my NEBOSH National Certificate in Fire Safety and Risk Management in 2022 and I am still studying at Northumbria – I hope to complete my NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety later this year.

What appeals to you most about the job? 

First of all, I like the investigation part. The ‘Columbo’ part – “Just one more question!” I like assembling pre-construction information, doing a bit of digging around the project, getting the information together, tying up loose ends, making sure that everybody is aware of it.

And then looking through the design with designers and looking at how we can eliminate risk or reduce it through the design and the construction phase. 

I like knowing we’re focusing as a team on making the process safe for people to use and operate and that we all want everybody going home safe at the end of the day.

Is your role likely to change with the introduction of the Building Safety Act?

The Act’s secondary legislation – particularly amending the building regulations – will significantly affect some projects I’m currently working on, such as Aldi Stores (Northern region) and Department for Education projects. It will affect those more than the water projects I’m currently involved in. 

I’m taking a particular interest in the changes to the building regulations, given I started out in building control – and knowing that the introduction of the new dutyholder terms are a mirror of those defined under CDM. This will inevitably lead to confusion for some. The biggest misconception is that these changes and new duties only relate to higher-risk buildings, rather than applying to all construction projects. 

I’m really interested to see how the industry responds to these changes – clients, consultants, local authorities, designers and contractors.

Talking of CDM regs, is there anything you’d suggest that might improve them?

I’ve always been in favour of clarity of explanation and language – which could be clearer around certain aspects of CDM. 

It’s still frustrating that, even after eight years, the CDM regs can still be misinterpreted and misapplied by dutyholders. Or by dutyholders who obtain the services of a third party to help them deliver their role and think it’s not their responsibility any more. 

The fact is you can’t delegate your legal responsibilities to somebody else – they have got to realise that that duty still lies with themselves.

What about safety’s relationship with architects – there’s sometimes a bit of tension there?  

Yes. I know what you are getting at. I know some architects feel principal designers should be architects – though in reality not many architects seem to want to take on the role. 

When it was first launched in 2015, I think the HSE had a five-year plan, in which architects would initially get assistance from third parties like former CDM coordinators. Then as the years went on it should have developed to the point where architects could take on the role themselves.

But, for whatever reason, that hasn’t happened. Companies are still reluctant to take it on. And I don’t know how that habit can be changed. I think, possibly, the building regulation changes are trying to reinforce the idea of having architects become principal designer under CDM by also making it the responsibility of the principal designer to ensure compliance with the building regulations.

It’s quite hard to attract people into the health and safety profession.What do you think could be done?

I think APS needs to be at university fresher events, just talking to people: “What course are you doing? Do you realise that you could be a designer? You could influence safety in the projects you’re working on! Let’s get you signed up – it’s free for full–time students.”

Whenever I talk to people about jobs, I always recommend the industry. And even if the job they come into is not directly a health and safety role – say, for example, if they’re designers – I recommend they study for a NEBOSH construction certificate, because I think it makes you a better designer. 

Companies and organisations need to talk more to universities, establishing relationships, particularly in design risk management – making students aware that whatever role they take on could have design implications. 

If you’re catching people at an early stage in their development and talking to them about safety issues, I think they will see the value in that as a career path.

Which projects have given you the most satisfaction?

I get a lot of pleasure from the work I’ve been doing on the Aldi (Northern region) projects ever since I joined Amec Foster Wheeler (AFW) in early 2017 and continued when AFW was bought by Wood later in 2017 and Wood was bought by WSP in 2022. I am particularly proud of the way we managed to maintain our services during Covid and lockdowns. 

Kevin Bainbridge WSP
Impression of the new Aldi store planned for Driffield, East Yorkshire (Image: Projekt Architects)

What do you do when you’re not working?

I spend a lot of time with my family. We try to get out in the fresh air – walks at the weekend as much as possible with my wife and nine-year-old daughter. You can usually find us either at National Trust or Durham Wildlife Trust sites or down the beach.

I’m a massive movie nerd, especially Bond movies and Marvel – I’m enjoying taking my daughter through the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the moment.

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