29.12.2015 : Jack Donaghy

The joy of SIX - 6 reasons to practice SAFE design

Nine months from now your client could be cutting the cord as construction starts on your project. But are you ready to take the steps to avoid a preventable accident?

40% of all deaths have been linked to decisions made during the design phase so designers have a unique opportunity and responsibility to take measures to prevent death, injury and ill health. This is best achieved by undertaking a collaborative process that integrates hazard identification and risk assessment methods early, and throughout the design. This method has proven highly effective when seeking to eliminate, isolate or minimise the risks of injury to those who will construct, operate, maintain, decommission and demolish an asset.

But that’s not all…this is only one of six key reasons why safe design should be of the upmost priority!

1. Prevent death, injury and ill health: The most important and obvious reason is that safe design affords the best opportunity to prevent death, injury and ill health (international graph for reducing fatality rate). Of course, no fatality is acceptable but if 40% of deaths are removed through ‘safer’ design then this will have a dramatic effect in lowering the fatality rate.

2. Corporate and social responsibility: Making the case that safe design engineering is a socially responsible business will help encourage more investment and action to prevent injury and illness. For example, we can increase resilience to disasters and their potential impact on infrastructure through specifying better materials and continuity planning, and manage health problems at work through improved ergonomic and human factors design.

3. Reduce costs: Effective collaboration between engineers, health and safety professionals and workers can lead to more effective risk control and improved constructability. This can then prevent money being wasted on unnecessary or ineffective measures such as retrofitting a constructed unsafe asset.
Clients have become better informed of ‘whole of life’ considerations as they get to grips with their long term operating expenditures and responsibilities. For example, lawn mowing maintenance crews are often exposed to live traffic in the central median of a motorway; this also brings an associated traffic management cost along with delays to road users. This risk can be eliminated by simply designing a permanent sealed surface.

4. Legislation: Of course it would be great if all designers just acted safely in everything that they do but unfortunately life is not like that. Sensible and enforceable regulations are necessary to drive home how important safe design is. Many countries including the UK, Australia and New Zealand have introduced laws which require a collaborative process for identifying and assessing risks for the entire project lifecycle. This means that all project stakeholders have a positive duty to work towards developing safer projects.

5. Clients request it: Clients are becoming increasingly aware of their own obligations around having a safely constructed and operated asset for its entire life cycle. Consequently, the expectation is that safe design is business as usual and designers provide an excellent service that adds values to the project.

6. Best practice leader: Safe design success stories need to be evaluated and failures thoroughly investigated so that lessons can be learned and shared. Communicating the good news stories will go a long way to counter negative misperceptions about the burden of health and safety, and create a positive health and safety culture within a company. Showing industry that safe design is taken seriously has a positive effect on both the actual and perceived safety philosophy of a company.

Designers who engage in safe design have an excellent opportunity to prevent death, injury and ill health whilst also delivering numerous secondary benefits such as reduced cost and improved constructability. It is therefore, crucial that they are geared up to ensure that a collaborative process is managed from early in the project lifecycle to ensure that we all get home safely at the end of the day.

About the Author

Jack Donaghy

Senior Associate - Project Management

Jack leads Beca’s Safety in Design programme which won the 2014 Workplace Health & Safety Supreme Award for Best overall contribution to improving workplace H&S in New Zealand. He is an experienced project manager and civil engineer who has managed major infrastructure projects across the UK and Australasia, working for consultant, contractor and client organisations.

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