Putting safety at the heart of design

21 Jun 2019

SID Site Safe’s new Safety in Design in Construction guide has been created to help designers put safety right at the centre of their projects.

By developing structures with people’s safety in mind, designers can minimise risks to people while creating better working and living areas.

 Developed by Site Safe New Zealand, the free document focuses strongly on the construction industry and combines practical advice along with a solid theoretical basis to the practice of safe design.

Site Safe chief executive Brett Murray says the concept of safety in design has become important in the last 10 years, particularly since the introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015.

 “There now has to be thought given to those people working in a built-up environment and how people interact with plant and machinery.”

Mr Murray previously worked at WorkSafe and says he’s seen too many examples where poorly thought-out designs lead directly to injuries or deaths.

 “For instance, many of Wellington’s buildings now require the use of abseilers to wash windows but the lack of thought in the design of some buildings in terms of safe abseiling anchor points is a problem. This was highlighted a few years ago when an abseiler fell when an anchor screw popped out of the building.”

Mr Murray says by thinking through all the issues of how something is going to be used, and sometimes misused, designers can reduce risk factors for workers.

But it isn’t just life-threatening situations where smart planning and design helps.

“Good design means things like not installing circuit boards in tight spaces so that when electricians are doing maintenance they’re really difficult to access. If someone is stuck in a tight space all day this has major ergonomic issues for them and can be just unpleasant.”

Blake Kyle, a research and technical advisor at Site Safe, says the guide has been developed and reviewed by industry experts to make sure it offers practical advice.

“Many risks to construction workers can be eliminated in the design stage of a project,” he says.

The guide also takes a philosophical look at where design fits into safety.

 “The information now available around safety in design has been broadened to include the concept of Whole Life Project Costs.  These include consideration of all costs involved in a project from conception, planning, tendering, construction, maintenance, use and right through to demolition.”

Mr Blake says for designers this helps them meet their legal duties as a Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) to ensure - so far as is reasonably practicable - a project is designed without risks to the health and safety of construction workers, users, maintenance workers etc.  

Chartered civil engineer Jeremy Eldridge, right, got involved in the Safety in Design project though his links to Constructing Excellence in New Zealand, which aims to enhance the delivery of construction projects.

jeremy eldridge

He has worked in New Zealand, Hong Kong and the UK over several decades and has seen the growing importance of embedding health and safety into the design of projects.

He says he enjoyed reviewing the document and being able to offer advice to make it a useful document for designers.

“It incorporates the collected views and comments of many people and I think it is valuable to bring a consistency of approach to safety in design across New Zealand.”

Mr Eldridge says safety in design is a key part of the training as a professional engineer in the United Kingdom.

“[It] developed through the 1980’s in response to a number of significant failures in that decade.”

A major case was the 1984 Abbeystead disaster in England where natural methane gas entered a water transfer tunnel and collected in an underground discharge station. A tour group of 44 was in the station when the methane ignited killing 16 and injuring 22. Providing permanent, natural ventilation would have prevented this.

He says designers must develop designs that break the sequence of potential cascade failures.

“The Safety in Design document has a very clear diagram of the “bow tie” analysis [on page 13 of the guide] which assists in identifying how and where appropriate breaks can be incorporated into a design to forestall the consequences of things going wrong.”

He says the duties and liabilities placed on designers by the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 is driving change to the training of professional engineers, and New Zealand should reap the benefit of safety in design in the future.

 “This guide provides clear, philosophical guidance on what you should be looking at and why.”

Another fan of the document is Dunedin architectural designer Reece Warnock who is also a director on the board for Architectural Designers New Zealand (ADNZ) which helped review the publication.

“It has a very handy, step by step process as to how we should be doing risk assessment and what we should be doing while designing,” Mr Warnock says.

“Apart from being a good document it is a good reminder to everyone in the trade what our responsibilities are.

He says good safety in design should be about that place where designers can make the most difference to the outcome over the whole life of a project.

 “That is very nicely expressed in the document, I think that came through quite strongly.”

 Site Safe would like to thank the large number of people who contributed to the creation of the publication. These included Marcellus Lilley of Studio Pacific Architecture, Chloe Stewart-Tyson and Ian Fenemore of Beca, Nathan Moher of ADNZ, Kirsty Allen of WorkSafe and Adam Thorndon of Dunning Thornton Consultants.  

Site Safe’s Safety in Design guide is available for free download here.