The onus on architects to risk-assess every aspect of their work has led many to become cynical of the safety agenda. At the recent AJ conference, 'Designing for Safety', Austin Williams prodded a few experts.
STEPHEN WRIGHT Head of CDM policy, Health and Safety Executive Risk aversion is simply a prudent thing for professionals to do. Surely it is a good thing that health and safety issues are now seen as integral to the design process and not just add-ons?
'It's common sense, ' said Wright. 'If you are designing a flat roof, ask yourself if you can put a handrail around it. All you have to assess is, can it be constructed, used, maintained and demolished safely. If the answer is 'yes', then you haven't got a problem.' When asked whether litigation was the best driver for design, Wright suggested that if architects did it right the first time - for example, specifying non-slip flooring - there'd be no cause for litigation. But he agreed that manufacturers seldom describe their flooring products as non-slip due to fear of litigation.
The new CDM Regulations 2006 include significant changes: most importantly, that a coordinator (who replaces the planning supervisor) should be appointed before designs begin.
PAUL CRADDOCK Associate director, compliance management, Arup Project Management Anyone who informs how the design is carried out is a designer under CDM, and that includes purchasers who impose strictures on the process. Craddock was concerned about the gulf between architects and engineers compared to the close working relationships further down the supply chain. There needs to be a more structured feedback system to incorporate other design team members' input and their health and safety implications.
TREVOR SMITH Manager, Aedas In general, architects still do not address 'maintainability' in their risk assessments. Admittedly, small firms haven't the resources and so engage in 'hazard management' as opposed to 'risk avoidance'.
Architects need to get experience in visiting sites as practices often delegate design, technical and site functions elsewhere. Everyone should be aware of the safety implications of other stages.
COLIN HEWITT Safety, health and environmental manager, Elyo Services As a client, Hewitt is affected in the operational and maintenance stages of a project. How many designers, he asked, go into a plant room to experience the actual spatial requirements? Fair point, but how much time does he think architects have on their hands?
BRIAN MARTIN Senior fire safety consultant, BRE The UK is pretty unique in allowing the authorities to interfere with the internal arrangement of a building - insisting on fire doors, etc - but the belief that sprinkler systems improve fire safety is questionable. Some tests reveal that visibility is reduced under sprinklers, thus actually increasing the risks.
MARK PROBERT-SOUTHAM Senior fire engineer, Corus Group Following the requirements of the Approved Document B (ADB) is one way to design but it is also possible to fire engineer more liberal arrangements, achieving compliance as well as ending up with more design choices. Travel distances can be increased with no risk to life or limb. Within the ADB, there is a time-based allowance, which can be modelled to show people's actual response actions in a fire. In this way, it can be shown that, in a given time, occupants travel further than is allowed for in the literal application of the travel distances written in the ADB. ProbertSoutham suggested that, in the domestic environment, sprinklers add just £1,000/dwelling if incorporated at the design stage.
LIZ BENNETT Director, Safety in Design Bennett suggested there was a danger the HSE was overstretching itself - punishing people for the consequences rather than for their intent. While identifying the lunacy of 'mitigating unforeseen circumstances', Bennett conceded the need to maintain clear audit trails to show your innocence. After all, she added ominously, 'every time you design a risk out, you design a risk in.'
MERVYN PETTIFOR National technical manager, flood risk management, Environment Agency Pettifor seemed to suggest that, with global warming, increased flooding and insurance-driven precautionary approaches to flood plain development, architects should start designing buildings on high ground or on stilts. Architects need to 'build in flood resilience.' Presumably semi-detached two-by-twos?
BRANDON WILLIAMS Regional safety health and environmental manager, Elyo Services Q: How many designers does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: None, because they can't get to it.
No, I didn't get it, either.
THOURIA ISTEPHAN Associate partner, Foster and Partners When Foster and Partners was commissioned for its work at the British Museum - a 300-year-old building - it was suggested that the firm carry out an asbestos survey. However, English Heritage was not interested in the risk assessment when it came to its insistence that lead-based paint be used in restoring the original colour scheme. An audit trail, says Istephan, is an 'invaluable tool for protecting yourself'.