Safety first: Project to cut accident rate in building industry by targeting prevention through design

Issue date: 13 July 2016


Architect's plans

Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are leading an international project aimed at reducing occupational injuries and illnesses in the construction industry.

It is estimated that the global construction sector accounts for 100,000 fatalities annually and about 30 to 40 per cent of all fatal occupational injuries. Injuries and new cases of ill health in construction costs society more than £1.1 billion a year in the UK.

The innovative project will focus on improving health and safety through design, which contributes significantly to accidents occurring both during construction works and afterwards.

Two UWE Bristol academics, working alongside industry experts and other universities, will create a new tool that will enable architectural and engineering firms to assess and improve their ability to produce designs that are inherently safer for contractors to build and maintain as well as being safer for occupants to use.

The project's principal investigator Dr Patrick Manu, a Senior Lecturer in Construction Project Management at UWE Bristol, said, “The construction sector is notorious for the numerous occupational injuries and illnesses it records which also leads to huge social and economic costs for the industry, governments and societies.

“Studies have established that design is a significant contributor to the occupational injuries and illnesses in construction and as a result 'design for safety', also called 'prevention through design' is increasingly becoming prominent in construction worldwide.”

Design for Safety (DfS) is mandatory under the UK Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 which stipulate that designers, when preparing or modifying designs, should eliminate, reduce or control foreseeable risks that may arise during the construction, maintenance and use of their buildings.

The regulations also state that the appointment of organisations with design responsibilities should be based on their capability. However, there is currently no robust systematic approach for establishing the DfS capability level of design firms.

The UWE Bristol-led research will develop a web-based DfS capability 'maturity indicator' tool which will offer an improved approach for accessing the DfS capability of construction supply chain organisations involved in architectural and engineering design.

Dr Manu said, “In order for firms with design responsibilities to produce inherently safer designs for construction, maintenance and use of built assets, they need to have the appropriate level of capability maturity. The question then is how can this level be reliably assessed when existing schemes do not fully enable that? Furthermore, in line with the popular maxim, 'If you can't measure it you can't improve it', a bigger question is how can firms improve their capability when they are unable to systematically ascertain their current level in the first place?”

The project, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is being undertaken by an international research team of academics and practitioners from the Health and Safety Executive, Heathrow Airport, Mott MacDonald, Bam Construction Limited, ISG, Nick Bell Risk Consultancy, GCP Architects, Safety in Design, Loughborough University and East Carolina University. The project commences in October and will run for two years.

Liz Bennett, of Safety in Design, an organisation which supports designers and decision makers in the built environment, said “The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 require at Regulation 8 the skills, knowledge, and experience (SKE) for individuals and the organisation capability for companies supplying services to construction projects. The construction industry struggles with what is meant by “organisational capability” and how to demonstrate quickly and easily the necessary SKE. The capability maturity indicator tool will provide a much needed flexibility. It will recognise that companies develop and can improve, especially when benchmarking themselves against others in their sector and of their size. It will allow clients to define a level of maturity and to provide the appropriate level of support and fees to allow for effective project delivery. It is naive to suppose that every company has the same approach to health and safety in design and the same ability to engage effectively. The tool will allow for clarity for all stakeholders and the reduction of inappropriate assumptions.”

Professor Alistair Gibb, of Loughborough University, said, “I have led many Health and Safety Executive and UK government‐funded studies which, amongst other things, have highlighted the contribution of design to preventing injuries and illnesses in construction. I am pleased to be part of this project that will contribute to the expansion of design for safety knowledge and ultimately develop a tool that should have real benefits for improving design for safety in construction.”

Professor Mike Behm, of East Carolina University, said, “This research project will enable design organisations to assess and improve their understanding of, and ability to, engage in meaningful safe design. The project is important to the global design and construction sector, which continues to be plagued by a disproportional accident frequency and severity rate compared to other industrial sectors.”

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