In Brief

  • Construction remains a highly hazardous industry. The prevention through design (PTD)/design for safety (DFS) concept is receiving greater attention as an effective way to eliminate many hazards.

  • This article analyzes the relationship between construction incidents in Iran and project design. The results indicate that 33% of incidents were related to design elements.

  • PTD/DFS requires collaboration of all stakeholders, development of new design standards and regulations, and improved availability of PTD/DFS tools.

Being proactive in regard to prevention and mitigation is always more cost effective than reacting to construction incidents. Project owners who hire safety-conscious design teams can also benefit from lower insurance premiums and lower overall project costs.

Occupational incidents cause about 321,000 deaths and 317 million injuries worldwide each year (International Labor Organization, 2013). In Europe, 9.5 fatalities were reported per 100,000 construction workers in 2006. In the U.S., 1 in 5 worker deaths occur in construction (BLS, 2014). According to official statistics in Iran, almost 37% of all industrial incidents (including fatalities and lost-time cases) occur on construction projects despite the fact that construction accounts for only 14% of total employment in Iran according to its Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs.

Despite a lingering perception that most incidents are due to worker negligence, the concept of designing for construction safety is viewed as a viable intervention to improve worker safety (Gambatese, 2004). Construction incidents cause delay, increase cost and can damage a contactor's reputation. Furthermore, hazard identification and risk assessment remain far from ideal in construction. Safety management methods are challenged by lack of communication (e.g., not sharing incident reports, limited resources for risk analysis on smaller projects).

New emphasis on sustainable construction brings with it an increased focus on protecting workers from injury and illness. Traditionally, designers have not participated in efforts to identify and prevent hazards, yet root-cause analysis reveals that design can affect construction worker safety and health (Behm, 2005; Gambatese, Behm & Rajendran, 2008; Gambatese & Hinze, 1999; Toole & Gambatese, 2008). Although it is more efficient to design safety into a process than to manage safety within a process that is naturally unsafe, designers are generally not conscious of their effect on construction safety, nor do they have the required knowledge and experience to play an efficient role in safety issues.

Designing for safety (DFS), also known in the OSH community as prevention through design (PTD), attempts to address this shortcoming. It can be used to attain sustainability through design and ensure maximum levels of safety, energy and environmental returns for workers, the public and the environment. In Iran, no incentives, legal or otherwise, are in place to convince designers to accept PTD/DFS as a standard practice. One main obstacle to this idea is the nature and form of construction projects. The design phase is often performed in isolation from the construction phase. The language and type of contract between owner and designer on the one hand and between owner and contractor on the other hand typically places the responsibility for workplace safety, equipment, methods, techniques, structure and operation squarely on the contractor's shoulders alone (Hinze, 2001).

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