How to approach Safety by Design?

Everyone involved in a construction project has their own skillset, knowledge base, and experience. Each position looks at a project through a unique lens. Designers and architects look at what is being built, construction managers look at how to build it, and Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) professionals look at how to build it safely.

Historically, when companies wanted something built, one team designed it and another team built it. There was only as much cross-communication as was needed to get the job done. Unfortunately, this method leaves a lot of room for error. Regulatory standards can be missed during design, workers can be forced into dangerous situations, and efficiency suffers. This all adds up to missed deadlines, lost revenue, and increased costs from higher premiums, fines, and settlements.

The good news is that this is easily fixed. Safety by Design is a method of collaboration that brings design, EHS, and teams together to ensure that facilities are safe to build and safe to use.

In order to reap the true rewards of this system, you have to start with a focus on safety, collaboration, and communication that permeates the entire project.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the most obvious factors are the easiest to overlook.

In any complex project, establishing priorities is essential. If you emphasize efficiency or low costs while not making safety a priority, then you can expect incidents. Make safety a high priority from the beginning, and lead by example. This can be as simple as a daily safety brief during the build phase. Start each day showing your trade workers you take safety seriously.

This can also mean ensuring your construction management team knows regulatory standards. Consider providing training to your team so everyone is knowledgeable about relevant codes and requirements. If the construction team knows the guidelines—like how wide a hallway should be—and they’re given the authority to speak up, they can help by being a last line of defense against a costly mistake, design flaw, or code violation.

Efficiency matters, budget matters, quality matters—and safety matters, too. Make that abundantly clear right from the start, and then carry it through to turnover and beyond.

In order to get the most out of the varied skills and perspectives of different teams, silos have to come down. Get the design team, the EHS team, the project team, and even the local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) all sitting at the same table from the beginning.

Every group and every individual has the potential to offer valuable input. Don’t leave anyone out. Tear down walls and build bridges.

This collaboration and communication needs to happen in every phase of the project, from the beginning to the end.

Often engineers review the work plan for passivation of the sanitary piping systems—a process of cycling hot acid solution through the sanitary piping lines to create a passive layer within the pipe for corrosion resistance. Valving and shut off points are designed into these systems to make the dangerous process as easy and safe to execute in the field as possible. Then, through the work plan review, we make sure that the people doing the actual work follow strict safety parameters.

Although additional valving for this process does cost more, temporary workarounds can be even more costly—not to mention the potential cost of a dangerous spill.

Even if someone sees a potential risk or thinks up a better idea for a design, it won’t do anyone any good if it doesn’t reach the right ears. You have to make sure that those ears are always open. Put egos aside and give everyone their chance to provide input. Get the teams discussing safety openly, transparently, and honestly.

Be willing to listen and encourage everyone else to do the same. If someone shares an idea that doesn’t go anywhere, you haven’t lost anything but a few minutes of your time. If someone notices inherent dangers in a design but doesn’t feel like they have the right to speak up, you might lose a whole lot more.

Make safety a value
In a market where everything has to be faster and cheaper, it’s more important than ever to develop a culture that views safety as a value. Preaching safety after an incident doesn’t work. It has to start from the beginning. When you bring teams together, promote healthy communication, and maintain safety front-and-center, everyone wins.


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