What OHS professionals need to understand about safety by design

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Saturday, 18 July, 2020 - 12:45
Industry news
National News

Safety professionals need a change in mindset when engaging with design professionals, according to an expert in safety by design.

The work of safety tends to be bogged down in the administrative and compliance domains (such as training, awareness, procedure writing, auditing, specifying and coaching), and these are not things that are generally thought about by designers, said Michael Behm, professor of Occupational Safety at East Carolina University and Coordinator of the Working Commission on Safety and Health in Construction at the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction.

Behm explained that safety professionals solve problems whereas designers create the built environment: “safety by design is not about auditing designs but rather the collaborative creative discussion in the design process about how to arrange conditions for workers to build, operate, maintain, and retool, and decommission the built environment,” he said.

“For example, excessive signage is a great indicator of poor design. The more warning signs in an area the less intuitive the space is to do the work that has to be done.”

Behm, who was speaking ahead of an AIHS and Art of Work masterclass on enabling safety by design on 28 July and 4 August, explained that safe design is about arranging conditions for workers to be successful.

One of the key principles of “safety differently” is that workers have the unique ability to adapt creatively to changing work circumstances, and Behm said this is a strength that organisations need to utilise in solving the complex problems.

“Safety differently understands that the design and organisation of work is imperfect due to the always limited knowledge,” he said.

“Roofs are a great example. We know that workers need to access roofs throughout the lifecycle of that roof for various reasons.”

Depending on the type of roof, its equipment and configuration, the exposure frequency and changing risks, Behm said safety by design takes these things into account when the building is designed or redesigned.

“A deliberate process considers work and its design – should we place the HVAC units on the roof, and if so where do we place them and why?

“A safety by design process enables this work to be accomplished and minimises downstream safety intervention and involvement.”

Behm will be speaking as part of a two-part AIHS and Art of Work masterclass on enabling safety by design on 28 July and 4 August. The masterclass will be conducted as an online training program with a maximum of 30 participants. For more information visit the AIHS masterclass website.