Though unintentional on the part of the designers, one important source of danger in construction comes from the designs, themselves. However, a new trend in the industry is designing projects to limit unnecessary risks and, better yet, enhance safety during construction. >In both regards, the OSHA construction alliance work group is seeking specific suggestions from the field.

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LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman Noel C. Borck

“Designing safety into building design is the wave of the future,” says LHSFNA Management Co-Chairman and NEA – the Association of Union Constructors Executive Vice President Noel C. Borck, “but the movement is just getting off the ground. We need as much input as possible from contractors, Laborers and others in the industry so that we can help provide direction to the architects and engineers who are willing to take safety concerns into consideration in their design work.”

Typically, when owners plan to develop some property, they commission designs from architects and engineers and then solicit bids for the structure’s construction.

That’s the way it is usually done, but things are changing. Three new models have emerged for bringing project development through design and construction. In fast-track construction, design and construction are carried out concurrently in order to accelerate the entire process and meet tight development deadlines. In design-build construction, a single legal entity takes responsibility for both design and construction. Finally, in construction management, a single management firm replaces the general contractor and manages relationships with all the prime contractors. In each of these models, the proximity of the design and construction phases increases awareness of their interconnection and encourages efforts to make design better serve construction.

Designers can and do have an impact on construction safety. Research indicates that designing for safety is a viable intervention for improving construction worker safety and health. It also can have a significant impact on safety in ongoing building maintenance. However, the practice is still in its infancy. One problem is that design professionals have limited knowledge of safety during construction, which is a major barrier to its implementation. Lack of motivation or willingness to embrace the concept poses another barrier; many designers rank construction worker safety as their lowest work priority. Concerns about legal liability also pose a significant barrier to designing for safety.

Below are some common examples of designing safety into the project that are relatively easy to implement and also effective in reducing hazards to construction workers.

  • Design components to facilitate prefabrication in the shop or at grade so that they may be erected in place as complete assemblies. The purpose is to reduce worker exposure to falls and strikes by falling objects.
  • Design steel columns with holes in the web at 20.86 and 42.13 inches above the floor level to provide support locations for guardrails and lifelines. By eliminating the need to create special guardrail or lifeline connections, such prefabrication immediately facilitates worker safety in the erection of columns.
  • Design underground utilities to be placed using trenchless technologies. The purpose is to eliminate safety hazards associated with trenching, especially around roads and pedestrian traffic surfaces. 
  • Design roadway edges with shoulders to support the weight of construction equipment. The purpose is to prevent heavy construction equipment from crushing the edge of the roadway and overturning.
  • Allow adequate clearance between the structure and overhead power lines. Bury, disconnect or reroute existing power lines around the project before construction begins. Overhead power lines that are in service during construction are hazardous in conjunction with operating cranes and other tall equipment.

In recent years, increasing attention has been paid to ways that architects and engineers might design safety into their building plans. In addition, attention needs to be paid to not producing designs that incorporate unnecessary worker risks during construction.

Members of the OSHA construction alliance work group, which includes the LHSFNA, have initiated a project to identify things designers do that make construction more unsafe than necessary. It would also like to identify specific things that designers do that contribute to a safe construction environment. The alliance requests its members to share their knowledge by sending emails to Mike Toole with as many specific examples as possible.

[Steve Clark]