“The Russians knew that Chernobyl was fatally flawed, even at the design stage” - Askold Krushelnycky, Prague, May 2003.

Being safe is a universal interest to all people. However, as technology has advanced, so too has the risk to health and safety through the consequential appearance of new hazards.

The need to control these hazards has also evolved in order to continue being safe. Technological advances have extenuated the scale and effects of many old and well known hazards such as fire, and introduced relatively new hazards such as the relationship between the use of fossil fuels and atmospheric pollution, or the prevalence of automobiles raising road fatalities.

Workplace health and safety legislation across most of Australia generally imposes a duty to designers to ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, that any building or structure is to be designed to be without risk to health and safety for the whole of its life cycle. Functions, activities and phases relating to a building’s life cycle vary significantly and can evolve with the building. These may include but not be limited to:

  • Varying the use for which the building or structure was initially designed;
  • Any handling and storage that occurs within the building;
  • Its construction;
  • Any foreseeable activity which may be later undertaken;
  • The manufacture, assembly, commissioning and de-commissioning of the building or structure;
  • The building’s demolition and disposal.

The direction of the SiD process therefore extends well beyond just the occupants of the building. To effectively address the entire life cycle of a building, all the potential for harm to all persons involved in, or even affected by each of these phases must be suitably considered.

Workplace health and safety legislation is generally state-based, and variations therefore do occur across the country. The fundamental premise of designer responsibility however is generally explicitly stated, or at least directly implied in all instances.

As a concept, SiD involves a planned and disciplined risk management approach early in the design to lessen potential hazards to all affected persons related to the facility or structure. It attempts to formalise an approach which is capable of considering safety systematically throughout the design process. It also provides a suitable process to document the safety-related decision making undertaken, and communicate the risks between the designer, operator and other stakeholders. This in turn fosters collaboration, with all stakeholders actively engaged in the process.

Responsibility for achieving a safe design ultimately rests with those who control or manage design functions. But how can this be accurately defined?

In practice, a diverse range of individuals are directly involved in decision making and therefore ultimately in the design and design outcomes. In essence, the architect/ engineer, client, developer, manufacturer, managers and directors can all be considered ‘designers’ if their decisions or guidance are a direct influence.

The benefits of implementing a SiD process are extensive and multifaceted. Intervention at the design phase has the greatest potential impact on the safety of the building or structure as the opportunity to eliminate risks is strongest at this phase. Attending to identifiable hazards at a later phase of the building’s life may only allow for costlier and far less powerful mitigation strategies.

To designers, SiD provides a system to formally document a process demonstrating systematic risk management. To clients, cost savings may be found in preventing future retrofitting and downtime. Insurance premiums may be reduced, as can the risk of litigation. Occupiers may see benefits in reduced injury management interventions, increased useability, reduced maintenance costs, and improved productivity to name just a few. The benefits can extend exponentially depending on the effectiveness of the process implemented.

Co-Authored by: Andrew Angelides & George Xinos