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Safety in Design: What to Consider When Designing

Every year in New Zealand, 52 people die on the job, and hundreds more are seriously injured. But what's most surprising, is that 50% of these falls are from less than three metres above ground level.

That's why it's so important to factor in height safety through every aspect of the process, from initial design, to final construction.

Of course, when it comes to architectural vision, overlooking the importance of a complete solution that ensures compliance and end-to-end services (design and consultation through to installation and certification) could potentially compromise the overall design.

With that in mind, it's absolutely key to keep in mind the exterior and interior concerns that need to be addressed when it comes to designing buildings with a focus on fall protection - so that a design can be created that meets both the client's needs and height safety regulations.

Here's what you need to know when it comes to height safety in design.

“Falls from heights are a major cause of work-related injuries and fatalities. Engineers, architects, designers and planners are responsible for designing safe buildings, facilities, structures and equipment. They should strive to eliminate, minimise or prevent the hazards of falling at work places.” - Jeffrey Frank Jones, OSHA

The Responsibility of Architects and Engineers in the Design Phase

One of the primary functions of planners and designers of new buildings or facilitates is the protection of workers from height hazards while they work. Inevitably, builders and labourers will be required to work at heights above ground level to get the job done, and it's the designers role to ensure that this can be completed safely.

Generally speaking, this means:

  • the consideration of weight-moving equipment like cranes and hoists
  • creating a safe design that inherently prevents falls and accidents
  • maintenance work and prevention control measures
  • general awareness of fall hazards and a safe work environment

The bottom line?

If you're designing a building, it's your responsibility to eliminate, minimise and prevent the hazard of falling in the workplace during the design phase. At the end of the day, good design isn't a separate concept from safe design - they're the same thing, and it's more efficient and effective to manage risk in the design phase than to retrofit health and safety solutions.


Exterior Design Considerations

A designer of structures is a PCBU whose profession, trade or business may involve:

  • Preparing sketches, plans, calculations, specifications, instructions or drawings for a structure
  • Including variations to a plan or changes to a structure
  • Making decisions for a design that may affect the health or safety of persons who fabricate, construct, occupy, use or carry out other activities in relation to the structure

The majority of the important hazards to be aware of when implementing safety by design occur on the exterior of a building. Holes, skylights, platforms, sharp edges and debris are all identified as hazards that are detrimental to worker safety.

The best way to incorporate height safety into your exterior design process, is to consult with a height safety specialist. Through a design specification process, your adviser will be able to gain an insight on the project, select the safest brands and product types that can be used within the design brief, and gain a clear understanding of the likely work method for the activities undertaken when working at height.

Detailed marked plans can then be produced that ensure compliance and safety - but also ensure that the asset itself isn’t compromised with excessive penetrations or visually unappealing equipment.

When it comes to the exterior of a building, design aesthetics and functionality are crucial, but as is premium safety performance. That's where purpose height safety solutions come into play; to find the perfect unison of the two.


Interior Design Considerations

While the management of fall prevention on the exterior of a construction site should go without saying, the safety of interior design can actually be quite easily overlooked, even though it's equally as important.

The lack of interior height safety awareness often comes from the simple fact that more people take chances at lower heights because they seem less of a risk, but in reality, these kinds of falls come with their own dangers.

As a designer, it's really important to ensure that all of the safety measures you have in place for the exterior of a building are equally applied to your interior design. Hazards must be identified, the best (and safest) quality materials must be used and safety gear must be in place at all times, even if instinctively the fall risk seems lesser.


Managing Client Expectations Around Height Safety

When constructing a building, your workers are the project's most valuable asset, and their health and safety is absolutely paramount to the completion of the structure. This is a really important concept to be communicated to clients from the get go.

There should be no cutting corners when it comes to safety in the workplace, even if it saves money or gets the job done quicker. As a designer, it's your role to ensure that there is a discussion around expectations when it comes to safety by design, and that having a plan for height safety is agreed upon.


Safety By Design Consideration Checklist

Before a project gets underway, make sure to consider these things during your design process, to ensure the safest possible outcome for the workers who will complete the project.

  1. Consult with a height safety specialist. It's their job to know the ins and outs of height safety, and can make sure your design is airtight.

  2. Consider the capabilities of the workers who will complete the project. Is what you're asking for putting them at risk?

  3. Know how to asses risk. Risk has two components – the likelihood that it will occur and the consequences (degree of harm) if it happens. To manage risk, you can reduce how serious the harm is if it does occur and/or reduce the chances of it occurring, or ideally both.

  4. Use industry standard control measures throughout your design process. You can find a list of tools and techniques may be useful for identifying and assessing risks at the design stage, here.

  5. Document everything. Health and safety aspects of the design should be reflected in the requirements of contract documents for the construction/manufacture stage.

  6. Consider providing a design safety report that outlines any risks identified.

  7. Understand that designs or redesigns should be continually monitored and adjusted to adapt to changes in the workplace. Make sure that new information is used to improve design.

As outlined by Worksafe NZ;

"the safe design of a structure will always be part of a wider set of design objectives, including practicability, performance, aesthetics, cost and functionality. These sometimes competing objectives need to be balanced in a manner that does not compromise the health and safety of those who work on or use the structure over its life, which includes the maintenance and/or demolition of the structure."


For more information on Safety by Design and Height Safety in NZ, grab our FREE Fall Protection Guide, below.




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For over 21 years our trusted team have been helping keep people and property safe at height. Afterall, making safety an instinctive culture is our vision. 

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