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Researchers from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are leading an international project aimed at reducing occupational injuries and illnesses in the construction industry. It is estimated that the global construction sector accounts for 100,000 fatalities annually and about 30 to 40 percent of all fatal occupational injuries. The project will focus on improving health and safety through design, which contributes significantly to accidents occurring both during construction and afterwards.

Two UWE Bristol academics, working alongside industry experts and other university researchers, will create a new tool that will enable architectural and engineering firms to assess and improve their ability to produce designs that are inherently safer for contractors to build and maintain as well as being safer for occupants to use.

The project’s principal investigator, Patrick Manu, Ph.D., a senior lecturer in Construction Project Management at UWE Bristol, said, “The construction sector is notorious for the numerous occupational injuries and illnesses it records, which also leads to huge social and economic costs for the industry, governments, and societies. Studies have established that design is a significant contributor to the occupational injuries and illnesses in construction and as a result ‘design for safety,’ also called ‘prevention through design,’ is increasingly becoming prominent in construction worldwide.”

Design for Safety (DfS) is mandatory under the UK Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, which stipulate that designers, when preparing or modifying designs, should eliminate, reduce, or control foreseeable risks that may arise during construction, maintenance, and use of their buildings. The regulations also state that the appointment of organizations with design responsibilities should be based on their DfS capability. However, there is currently no robust systematic approach for establishing the DfS capability level of design firms.

The UWE Bristol-led research will develop a web-based DfS capability “maturity indicator” tool that will offer an improved approach for accessing the DfS capability of construction supply chain organizations involved in architectural and engineering design.

“In order for firms with design responsibilities to produce inherently safer designs for construction, maintenance, and use of built assets, they need to have the appropriate level of capability maturity,” Manu said. “The question then is how can this level be reliably assessed when existing schemes do not fully enable that? Furthermore, in line with the popular maxim, ‘If you can’t measure it you can’t improve it,’ a bigger question is how can firms improve their capability when they are unable to systematically ascertain their current level in the first place?”

The project, funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, is being undertaken by an international research team of academics and practitioners from the Health and Safety Executive, Heathrow Airport, Mott MacDonald, Bam Construction Limited, ISG, Nick Bell Risk Consultancy, GCP Architects, Safety in Design, Loughborough University, and East Carolina University. The project commences in October and will run for two years.

Liz Bennett, of Safety in Design (www.safetyindesign.org.uk), an organization that supports designers and decision makers in the built environment, said, “The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 require at Regulation 8 the skills, knowledge, and experience (SKE) for individuals and the organization capability for companies supplying services to construction projects. The construction industry struggles with what is meant by ‘organizational capability’ and how to demonstrate quickly and easily the necessary SKE. The capability maturity indicator tool will provide a much needed flexibility. It will recognize that companies develop and can improve, especially when benchmarking themselves against others in their sector and of their size. It will allow clients to define a level of maturity and to provide the appropriate level of support and fees to allow for effective project delivery. It is naive to suppose that every company has the same approach to health and safety in design and the same ability to engage effectively. The tool will allow for clarity for all stakeholders and the reduction of inappropriate assumptions.”

Michael Behm, Ph.D., professor in the College of Engineering and Technology, Department of Technology Systems, East Carolina University, said, “This research project will enable design organizations to assess and improve their understanding of, and ability to engage in, meaningful safe design. The project is important to the global design and construction sector, which continues to be plagued by a disproportional accident frequency and severity rate compared to other industrial sectors.”

Information provided by the University of the West of England (www.uwe.ac.uk).

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