Safety through design is not an uncommon concept in occupational safety and health. The hierarchy of controls that is central to industrial hygiene and safety recognizes that engineering controls and the elimination of hazards through design are preferable to administrative controls and personal protective equipment in protecting workers from exposure. Similarly the practice of ergonomics in the workplace is premised on designing the job and the workplace to meet the capabilities and limitations of the worker. The National Safety Council's Institute for Safety Through Design, established in 1995, adopted as its mission the following:

To reduce the risk of injury, illness, and environmental damage by integrating decisions affecting safety, health and the environment in all stages of the design process. (Christenson & Manuele, 1999, xi)

An application of safety through design to a large manufacturing facility identified three principles to assure that safety was effectively incorporated into the design process:

  1. Safety needs to be considered continuously throughout all phases of design.

  2. Safety needs to receive focused attention at strategic points in the design process.

  3. Engineers and designers need to be held accountable for meeting their safety responsibilities. (Adams, 1999, 158)

Designing for Construction Safety

This article focuses on design for construction workers' safety and health. Designers do not traditionally consider construction worker safety as part of the design process. Architects and engineers certainly focus on safety and health, but the objects of this attention are the end users of a facility, e.g. building occupants, motorists, or facility operators, rather than those who construct it.

Such safety provisions are enacted through building codes, fire codes, and related regulations, but these rarely directly address the construction worker. This limited attention to construction worker safety is confirmed by survey research of designers and construction clients (Hinze and Wiegand, 1992; Hinze, 1994a, 1994b).

A number of factors are responsible for this situation:

  1. OSHA places worker safety and health responsibility on the employer, which on a typical construction site is the contractor, not the designer

  2. Regulatory requirements for designer involvement in construction worker safety do not exist outside of the European Union

  3. Liability concerns among architects and designers present significant legal disincentives to their involvement in construction safety

  4. The specialization of disciplines in the construction and design process separate designers from the construction process

  5. Safety-in-design tools, guidelines, and procedures are limited in quantity and quality

  6. Architects and engineers receive little or no education on issues of construction worker safety (Hinze & Wiegand, 1992; Gambatese, 1998)

  7. The traditional contracting structure of the construction industry does not facilitate designer-constructor collaboration.

These are significant barriers, but are there potential benefits to greater designer involvement in the safety of construction workers that would make the effort worthwhile? In other words, does design make a significant contribution to construction worker injuries and illnesses and, if so, how?

This content is only available via PDF.
You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.