The PtD Concept

What PtD is:

  • Including worker safety considerations in the constructability review process.
  • Making design decisions based in part on how the project’s inherent risk to construction and maintenance workers may be affected.
  • Explicitly considering and valuing the safety of construction and maintenance workers during the design of a project, when the inhererent safety risks can best be addressed.  The graphic below illustrates the important concept that the ability to influence any project goal–cost, schedule, quality, AND SAFETY–is highest during the design phase.

cost time influence curve 1 meg

  • Attempting to leverage through design the important principle captured in the Hierarchy of Controls (see graphic below):  It is much safet to design out a hazard than to react to it through PPE or administrative controls.
  • Hierarchy_of_Controls_(By_NIOSH)

What PtD is not:

  • Having designers take a role in construction safety DURING construction.
  • An endorsement of future legislation mandating that designers design for construction safety.
  • An endorsement of the principle that designers can or should be held partially responsible for construction accidents.
  • Implying that the vast majority of U.S. design professionals are currently equipped to design for construction safety.

Why is PtD Important?

The injury and fatality rates in construction are so high that all parties — including owners, design professionals, contractors, subcontractors and material vendors — must proactively attempt to reduce injuries to the extent that is feasible for them.

Although typical contract terms clearly state that designers are not responsible for the safety of construction workers, nearly all designers would feel an ethical obligation to take action to prevent a serious injury to a construction worker if the hazard was imminent and obvious to the designer. Shouldn’t designers feel a similar ethical obligation to take reasonable actions to prevent injuries that are not as imminent or obvious?

Having a lower accident rate on a construction project should be added to the list of universal project goals, such as low cost, high quality and fast completion time. All designers agree their decisions affect the cost, quality and duration of a construction project. Shouldn’t designers also recognize that their design decisions affect the inherent risk to the workers constructing the project? There is a principle in quality management that quality must be “designed in.” This principle also applies to safety: Safety must be designed into a project.

In addition to ethical duties, there are practical reasons for each party in a construction project to encourage or participate in DfCS. Subcontractors and general contractors that self-perform work have several practical reasons to encourage DfCS: it reduces accident rates, thereby reducing workers’ compensation insurance rates, and increases project productivity. All owners benefit from reducing the risk that one or more construction accidents will delay project completion dates. Owners who have owner-controlled insurance programs (OCIPs) will also benefit financially from the lower accident rates that DfCS provides. Designers who perform DfCS can use this fact to market themselves as progressive, team-oriented professionals. Designers who are part of design-build teams should benefit financially from the reduced accident rates experienced during construction.

PtD’s Link to Sustainability

Is prevention through design linked to sustainability in any way? Absolutely! Many people mistakenly assume that sustainability refers only to being “green.” But folks who have studied sustainability know that sustainability actually has three components: environmental equity, economic equity and social equity. In other words, for something to be successful and right over the long term, it is necessary that it not only be environmentally sound, but it must also be financially and socially sound.

A sustainable building project, for example, must not result in unacceptable harm to the environment during its construction and use. The building must also make economic sense such that, over the long term, the revenues will at least equal the expenses of constructing and operating it. And the building must be socially acceptable such that the building causes no harm to any person or causes a group of people to experience injustice.

What could be more unjust than to have workers construct a building that is not as safe to build as it could be? In other words, isn’t it unfair or inequitable to design a building that is more unsafe to build than it could be? A fair construction project is when the designers have made reasonable effort to design out hazards and constructors assume responsibility for managing the risks that can’t be designed out.  Sustainable construction occurs when design contributes to safety, therefore preventing excessive injury costs from reducing future construction projects in a local area.

So, yes, the PtD concept is directly linked to sustainability!