KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Studies indicate that gaps found in design are significant contributors to workplace serious injuries and fatalities (SIFs), which points to the need for prevention through design (PTD) concepts.

  • The greatest opportunity to avoid, eliminate and reduce risk to an acceptable level and prevent SIF events is upstream in the design and redesign of processes, equipment, facilities, tools and work methods.

  • The primary goal of safety and risk management is to achieve and maintain a level of risk that is as low as reasonably practicable while accomplishing the organization's objectives. OSH professionals have a vital role to play in PTD and design safety reviews.

  • This article provides OSH professionals a practical approach to establishing a method for anticipating, recognizing, avoiding, eliminating and minimizing operational hazards and risks before they are introduced into the workplace.

To err is human; to prevent by design is divine. For occupational serious injuries and fatalities (SIF) to be effectively and consistently reduced, safety must be designed into workplace facilities, systems and methods. Risk avoidance and elimination, the most effective risk treatment options, are generally only possible by design and redesign efforts.

A clear link exists between workplace fatalities and unsafe or error-prone designs. Studies in the construction industry indicate that more than 40% of fatalities are connected to the design aspect (Behm, 2005). In Australia, safety in design is an action area of the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy. A Safe Work Australia (2014) study examined work-related fatalities that occurred from 2006 to 2011 and involved machinery, plant and powered tools. Its purpose was to assess the extent to which unsafe design contributed to the fatalities. Of these fatalities, 12% were identified to have been caused by unsafe design or design-related factors, while 24% were possibly caused by design-related factors.

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