Safety in design – what’s your role?

June 17th, 2011

Safe Designs are the building blocks that eliminate all health and safety hazards at work and/or minimise any potential health and safety risks in the workplace. It involves the collaboration of a variety of decision makers to consider design options that eliminate work health and safety hazards and minimise the risks to two groups of people: the ones who make the product and the ones who use it.

Safe Design includes roles for a wide range of people in the workplace from employees and employers, through to architects, industrial designers, suppliers, manufacturers and consumers. In other words, anybody who is involved in the process of production through to consumption is considered in Safe Design.


Safe Design provides a framework through which risk management approaches may be understood. The framework can be applied to any part of the products manufacture or use – its entire life-cycle. From its construction and manufacture, through to its use by the consumer.


Principles of safety design include identifying persons with control of products, facilities or processes, and therefore able to promote health and safety at the source. It is essential that this be present at each stage of the product’s life-cycle from conception of the product through to its disposal. Adherence to such safety design will help to eliminate hazards and minimise risk.

Safe Design is a systematic form of risk management, including the application of hazard identification, risk assessment and risk control processes. Also, an effective communication and documentation of design and risk control information between all persons involved in the phases of the lifecycle is essential for the safe design approach.

Research commissioned by the National Occupational Health & Safety Commission (which was replaced by the Australian Safety and Compensation Council in 2005) found that:

  • Of the 210 identified workplace fatalities, 77 (37%) definitely or probably had
    design- related issues involved.
  • In another 29 (14%) who identified workplace fatalities, the circumstances
    were suggestive that design issues were involved.
  • Design contributes to at least 30% of work- related serious non-fatal injuries.
  • Design-related issues were definitely or probably involved in at least 50% of
    the incidents in the agriculture, trade and mining industries
  • Between 40-50% of the incidents in construction, manufacturing and
    transport/storage industries were related to design issues

Ultimately, implementing a safe design approach can have many benefits for the workplace including the prevention of injury and disease, while also improving usability of products, systems and facilities. This will lead to a long term increase in productivity and reduction in costs, leading to better prediction and management of production and operational costs over the lifecycle of a product. Safe Design also ensures compliance with legislation that can protect against legal issues and related costs. Ultimately, Safe Design demands new thinking, which will lead the workplace to the most innovative options for the job at hand.