Great emphasis is placed on creating good safety culture and performance in construction to keep people safe – but according to statistics it can still be a dangerous profession. In the UK construction accounts for more workplace deaths than any other industry; a range of construction industry trades feature in America’s 25 most dangerous jobs; and construction is the third largest contributor to workplace fatalities in Australia.
However, statistics also tell us that early consideration for safety during design can significantly improve safety outcomes in construction. Recognising the impact it can have, in the U.K., engineers are legally required to detail the safety of construction workers in their design. Similarly in Australia, “healthy and safe by design” is one of seven national action areas outlined in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012 – 2022.
Here we explore the role that design plays in keeping construction workers safe, and ways to design worksites for greater safety too.
How design can influence safety in construction?
Designing for construction safety (DFCS) is an approach that helps projects to improve safety from the very early stages of design. It creates a framework for designers, architects and engineers to positively influence safety throughout the project lifecycle – from construction and operation, through to maintenance and end of life dismantling.
Designing out hazards

The first consideration when designing for construction safety is to identify and design out known construction hazards. Some examples include:
Hazard Design Solution
Falls are a leading cause of death and injury in construction.
  • Consider the inclusion of anchorage points for personal fall protection systems.
  • Design parapet walls for safety during construction and maintenance.
  • Ensuring the safe and adequate design of project scaffolding.
Exposure to hazardous materials is detrimental to health and wellbeing. Where possible specify materials that reduce (or can substitute) the use of hazardous materials.
Moving access equipment and other heavy equipment around worksites and completed buildings can be hazardous. Designing maintenance lifts, and occupant lifts that can accommodate heavy access equipment during construction and for future maintenance.
Routine maintenance can be dangerous when access is restricted. Consider maintenance when designing the location of equipment that will require servicing – like air conditioning units.
Risk mitigation
Identifying construction risks and putting adequate control measures in place can also help to improve safety through design.  To be effective, this process requires project teams to consider how overall construction and individual tasks are performed, and the physical, mental and emotional demands they place on construction workers. Some examples of risk mitigation during design can include:
  • Removing construction inefficiencies to prevent workers from rushing to recover lost time.
  • Prioritising safety over construction deadlines by setting achievable construction schedules.
  • Implementing ergonomic principles to prevent work-related injuries like strains, sprains and carpal tunnel.
  • Increasing safety awareness and reducing injuries on site through the design and implementation of safety training, inductions and other safety-focussed programs.
Safer worksite design
Understanding good worksite design is another important factor in designing safe, flexible and efficient construction schedules and workflows. The following examples of good worksite design are focused on improving safety:
  • Providing easy access to PPE in all shapes and sizes, suitable for all tasks completed on site.
  • Allowing space on site to safely manoeuvre and store machinery, equipment and materials.
  • Providing adequate shade and facilities for workers to rest, re-fuel and hydrate.
  • Ensuring site access controls that meet and exceed industry requirements.
  • Involving specialists in the design and placement of safety signage to reduce the risk of injury.
  • Effective systems, processes and designs to allow worksites to remain free from debris.
  • The use of building information modelling (BIM) can also improve efficiency and workflow in the design of construction sites – minimising distances travelled around site and maximising efficiency around the placement of tools, equipment and materials.
How important is design to the safety of your construction projects? Have early design interventions improved safety on your worksites? Please share your thoughts and feedback via LinkedIn.

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