Theme: designing for safety
Research has found that two-thirds of all site accidents are caused by factors occuring before work starts on site. But a cultural change is needed if we are to tackle the designer denial that relegates health and safety to almost an afterthought.
After some gentle arm twisting, I agreed to write this article purportedly on 'designing for safety'. I agreed because I believe that for many designers it is a subject that ties them in knots and for the life of me, as an architect myself, I fail to understand why. The key, I suggest, is paradoxically not to think about safety (and health) but in business terms and from the perspective of 'buildability and maintainability'.
'The more you drive to deliver safety as an integral body of business, the more likely you are to be successful. I do think you need to talk about it in a business context not just in terms of safety' (Lord Cullen).
Although many designers are still in denial that what they design may cause or contribute to accidents, research leading to EU directive 92/57, and thereby to the CDM Regulations, determined that twothirds of all site accidents were caused by factors occurring before the start of work on site, eg poor design, inappropriate choice of materials and equipment, bad planning and coordination of site operations.
Business drivers and 'prompts' The industry has long debated the need to 'change its culture', so one of the first hurdles is to change the mindset and to view consideration of health and safety as part of the company's and or project's risk management alongside finance, environment, marketing and resources. It should be considered not as an afterthought or in isolation but as an integral part of the decision-making process.
Such strategic initiatives as Latham, Egan, Turnbull and a whole lot more have aimed at changing the industry's culture and the way it operates in order to improve as a business so that it can better meet clients' needs.
'Rethinking Construction/Accelerating Change' focused on ways to improve the project process and set down drivers for change with targets. CDM was considered a key vehicle for achieving all of this - not through focusing on improving health and safety, but by considering the 'prompts' and underlying ethos that CDM provides. These 'prompts' broadly require consideration of competency, communications, resources, information flow and elimination of risk. All of them offer business benefits at all levels, whether in product development, partnering, component production, innovation and improvement, standardisation potential, research, reduced tender costs, reliability or, shock horror, improved fees.
The contributing factors to the whole-life cost of facilities are given as:
lDesign 0.1 lConstruction 1.0 lMaintenance, etc 5.0 lBusiness operations 200.0 From a client's perspective, the implications of design and construction for maintenance and overall operational costs are immense. It is therefore imperative that design decisions consider 'buildability and maintainability' in order to contribute to achieving satisfactory whole-life costs.
Think thoroughly in terms of 'buildability and maintainability' and you will almost certainly also consider issues of health and safety in an integral way.
So we need to think in business terms rather than, as too many do at present, seeing CDM in a very narrow context of health and safety and risk assessments and not as a basis for effective construction health-andsafety risk management. Too many people generate reams of paper in the form of risk assessments, H&S plans or H&S files, which make no useful contribution to improving how a project or 'structure' is built, used or maintained. This is simply producing paperwork for its own sake and is certainly not required by CDM, as many seem to believe.
CDM is intended to encourage the integration of health and safety into project management, and any paperwork should contribute to that end. There is no point in doing risk assessments as a paper exercise if you do not assess the risk effectively and design/manage accordingly.
Designing with safety in mind Designers had a duty to ensure that what they designed was capable of being built, used and maintained safely and without risk to health - buildability and maintainability if you will - long before the introduction of CDM. Consideration of buildability is very much a design issue and should not be confused with telling the contractor how to build.
From a design perspective, considering 'buildability and maintainability' does not mean becoming a construction expert or a facilities manager. It does mean, as has always been the case, that if you don't know, then you need to ask those who do know, find a satisfactory answer and take account of that information in the design. This applies from the outset - ground and topographical conditions, access, services - and continues through all aspects of the design process down to the details. In maximising the use of the site, can the design actually be built? Can the public utilities service the site? Have you sited the building and resolved issues of access, storage, etc, not only for the finished development but also during construction? In that wonderful atrium, how are the light bulbs, the H&V grilles, the glass, etc to be cleaned or replaced?
There is no point in assuming or even stating that high-level maintenance items will be dealt with by using a cherry picker if you have not made adequate provision. You must ensure that there is suitable clear hard standing externally or, if it is to be used internally, be certain that the equipment can get into the building, the floor can take the load, etc. How is the H&V equipment that has been squeezed into the basement or located on the roof to be replaced or accessed for maintenance? Let's say you have opted to locate the plant room on the roof of a multi-storey building. Leaving aside provision for regular maintenance, how is the equipment to be replaced over whatever life cycle? If it is to be done by crane, what size of crane - is there indeed one large enough and if so is it readily available? Is there suitable hard standing or will the road need to be closed? How is the roof glazing to be cleaned or replaced? Abseiling, you say. But what are the implications of such a solution, if indeed it is a solution, and have you made suitable provisions? Sorry, these are very much design issues with a direct effect on the whole-life costs of the project that you need - or it would be prudent - to explain/discuss with the client.
Have you considered your design so that operations on site involving working at height could be reduced? Could you contribute to a construction site that would be dry, quiet and tidy? You can, in case you are in doubt, and in so doing will almost certainly not only improve health and safety but also contribute to a project being completed on time, on cost and on quality.
All of this is very basic stuff, but you and your client need to be clear on what is being provided, the implications of doing so and agree that it is acceptable as a project and business solution. Nor does any of this restrict or constrain innovation or design ingenuity - it simply requires the designer to fulfil his professional responsibility for what is designed.
So you are not persuaded by the business case/benefits or by arguments of professional duty. Our fees are too low, you say; clients are not interested, you say, they are only interested in lowest cost and how quickly the project can be completed. There is nothing we can do about it, you say. But what if there were some means to counter clients' unrealistic demands - legislation even?
What if there was legislation whereby the client had to allow enough time for design, planning, preparation and construction;
had to appoint competent and adequately resourced designers and contractors; had to provide information needed to identify hazards arising from site conditions? And what if that same legislation required designers to advise clients of what they had to do? Wouldn't that put designers in a strong position to counter clients' 'unreasonable demands' and at the same time command reasonable fees? Would clients perhaps not welcome being advised on how such legislation would benefit their project being completed on time, on cost and to agreed quality standards? Would that not be a welcome piece of legislation? Well, the legislation, in the form of the CDM Regulations, has been in force since April 1995. Why not benefit both yourself and your clients and use them?
Undergraduate training These same messages need to be made clear to all undergraduates on construction or built environment-related design courses.
Many in academia protest there is no time in the curriculum for health and safety, but I suggest this is because it is considered as an add-on and not as an integral part of design. If construction-related design courses are principally project-based, then from the earliest projects, a practitioner assessing each student's work could just ask one or two simple questions about some aspect of the design. At this early stage the questions would be of the nature 'Had you considered??' but over subsequent projects the questions and appraisal could become a more integral part of the assessment. Course material would supplement the 'buildability and maintainability' agenda so that consideration of construction health and safety risk management, as well as its business imperative, is well and truly integrated into their thinking. Only in the final year would it be necessary to make students aware of the legislative imperative, because they would already be doing what the legislation requires anyway.
Seagulls and sky-hooks More than 30 years ago, when I was an architecture student and our schemes were worked up on detail paper and left on the drawing board in the studio overnight, it was not unusual to come in the next day and find a 'seagull' or 'sky-hook' drawn in 8B pencil at some point of the design. One of the design tutors would prowl the studios and his 'seagull' or 'sky-hook' was a simple message to us - had we given any thought as to the implications for how this wonderful piece of design was going to be built and/or maintained? That was over 30 years ago but the message is more than relevant today. So think 'buildability and maintainability' and, if you find a piece of your design where the only solution is a 'sky-hook' or a 'seagull', you need to reconsider and find a better solution. It's your design, your problem - and the solution is in the problem.
Brian Law is chief executive of the Association of Planning Supervisors