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Safety through design

What if you could keep people safe and save lives through your work?

Submitted by John Boaro

It’s easy to get too focused on the pure engineering of a project. But we always have to remember that we’re designing places where people work, and they want what we all want: to be safe; to go home to their families. So we have to think about how we’re going to design – not a building, but an environment that is healthy and safe.

Designing with safety in mind is the impetus behind prevention through design (PtD), the concept of mitigating risks by “designing them out.” Our mining team has been using PtD for years.

Teams in our mining sector take every opportunity to change designs to make facilities safer to construct, operate, maintain, and decommission. For example, we:

  • Add parapets to high structures to prevent falls
  • Ban dangerous “ship ladders” and limit the use of ladders on headframes, designing stairs instead
  • Design rainwater collection systems that prevent icicle formation at heights and provide opportunities for water reuse
  • Restrict the weight of anything that operations staff will have to lift, such as a hatch, to less than 50 pounds (22 kilograms)

And then there are light bulbs. Facilities like mining hoist houses can reach 80 feet high. Changing a lightbulb might require using a ladder (dangerous), special training required to work at a height (time consuming), or even shutting down operations to get a lift in and out of the space (costly). So, what’s the solution to out-of-reach lightbulbs? Design out high bay lights for lower ones, use longer-lasting LED bulbs that need changing less often, or design a light pole that lets staff change the bulb from a lower level and safer location.

Our mining team has seen the many benefits of PtD. Companies want to keep their people safe and make money. One workplace accident or death can cost millions of dollars, so these two goals align. Other benefits include:

  • Reducing the need for personal protective equipment so people can work more efficiently
  • Saving the time and costs associated with special safety training and processes
  • Reducing the risk of injuries
  • Improving engagement with our clients to help designers understand how a facility will be operated, maintained, and decommissioned

PtD can also result in a better overall design. Take steel, for example. We ask ourselves: Can we use less steel without compromising structural integrity so that it’s cheaper for the client and incorporates fewer heavy lifts? Can we design the connections to be easier to install and inspect so that, 20 years down the road, inspectors can see all those connections without suspending operations to keep the building certified? This kind of forward thinking makes for better designs.

PtD—which can be applied to any sector—shows that you can have a significant amount of control over health and safety outcomes, much in the same way you can control quality. But this control doesn’t apply just to projects we design; if we plan properly, we can prevent injuries and accidents in the office and the field.  By considering risks up front, we can provide a safe and healthy outcome for everyone, no matter what the situation.

Designing with safety in mind is the impetus behind prevention through design, the concept of mitigating risks by ‘designing them out.

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