Practicing ArchitectureKnowledge Communities
The word safety has various applications in many areas of our lives. The word is applied to public safety, as in police and fire and life safety as defined by the National Fire Protection Association but in this article it relates to occupational safety, the safety of people at work. The many strategies that exist in the workplace, that are intended to mitigate or eliminate hazards and reduce or prevent injuries, have also been referred to collectively under the generic name of safety. The word has come to encompass areas of interest from housekeeping to process management and safety initiatives apply in varying degrees across every industry in the United States. The safety standards promulgated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration focus on the relationship between an employee and the direct employer of that worker, with an emphasis on safety at the point of operation or at a point closest to the actual accomplishment of work. Beyond simple government enforcement it is understood that considering safety in advance of the actual task to be accomplished can produce a work environment that mitigates hazards in general and provides for greater worker safety at the point of operation. The initial stages of any effort allow for the most careful analysis of issues and a broader safety strategy for the mitigation of hazards. Inversely, the closer to the accomplishment of work that safety is considered, the more reactive and necessarily more narrow the application of safety principles will be.
The concept of Safety in Design and Construction: A Lifecycle Approach considers safety over the entire lifecycle of a workplace from demolition of an existing structure through the concept, design, construction and operation phases of a new facility. Designers, graphic artists, engineers, architects, construction managers and facilities managers find applications to their work and an analysis of safety issues before and after their involvement. The European Union and the United Kingdom in particular, have codified the need for designers to consider worker safety in their design. Design firms there have provided certain architects with construction and occupational safety training in order for them to meet the requirements of this legislation. In the United States no such requirement exists but applying the principles of designer involvement in the well-being of constructors and maintainers can still be accomplished.
Design review as it is currently practiced by many organizations is ineffective and no single entity advocates directly or solely for worker safety during the process. Studies indicate that design decisions have a direct impact on the well being of builders, building maintainers and of course building occupants. Design features that result in hazardous conditions during construction or for the life of a building can be identified during design review if systems exist that formalize the design review process related to safety. Safety professionals require design review knowledge and designers need occupational safety knowledge in order to bridge the gap that currently exists.
The constituents that a designer must satisfy are many and adding another set of pressures may at first seem unreasonable. The challenges that face architects and engineers as they balance space, site, building codes, aesthetics, sustainability and budgets is that those areas of interest already have adequate representation in the design process. The very fact that designers pay so much attention to those areas indicates that they have a place in the process. The list of entities that currently have a voice during design though does not include safety and without a place in the design, a voice being heard, worker safety is being overlooked. A decision to place mechanical equipment on a roof should not be made without a safety professional being part of the process. Design elements such as elevators, stairways, and fixed ladders should not be considered without input from a safety professional. A discussion on walking and working surfaces would benefit from the inclusion of a safety professional. As in the UK, an architect can fill that role with the proper training but regardless of which profession the advocate for safety is drawn from, they should have no other role on the design team. In other words, advocating for safety during design is a primary responsibility, not a secondary responsibility.
Sustainability has recently become more important to building owners and there are lessons learned there that can be applied to design for safety. Our social conscience is fascinated by concepts that are intended to minimize our impact on the planet. We are determined to find the benefit in cogeneration, geothermal wells, solar energy and recycling and to rationalize the investment, the expenditure on these technologies and industries. If the atrium that brings natural light into a building comes in at a cost that exceeds our budget we review the numbers again and again, looking for ultimate savings and estimating the increase in the quality of life for building occupants. When the cost of renting a lift to clean the atrium exceeds our budget we install a boson’s chair. The effort to justify the added expense of safety is too often a half-hearted one and the compromises that are based on dollars during construction translate into compromises of safety for workers. The same zeal to seek out new technologies and innovative designs must be applied to construction, safety equipment and building maintainability. The drive toward sustainability is an important one but so also is sustaining the lives and well-being of the people that build, maintain and occupy those facilities.