How to Use Prevention through Design (PtD) for a Safer Jobsite

Prevention through Design (PtD) means “designing out” safety and health hazards so workers never face them. It’s a first-line defense against injury. And it’s gaining steam according to a recently released report, Safety Management in the Construction Industry 2017, from Dodge Data & Analytics.

The report, based on a survey of more than 300 general and trade contractors, found that many are engaging in PtD practices, even if they’ve never heard the term. But the top barrier to adoption, at least for contractors (a separate survey of architects told a different story), is lack of know-how, according to the survey.

Here’s how you can take part. You might even get a LEED PtD pilot credit for your efforts.

Talk to the owner/architect/engineer about the importance of PtD. Do this as soon as you get hired for a project. You can refer them to the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) PtD training materials. Most of the opportunities for PtD come during design, so the earlier you can get involved, the better.

Consider design changes for maintenance workers that will help your workers, too. An important element of PtD is building in safety for maintenance workers once the building is open, and you can make design changes that benefit your workers now and maintenance workers in the future. Can you build in permanent ladders or even steps in some high areas so workers won’t have to use less-safe portable ladders to reach them? Can you install gantry systems for working on atriums and skylights to reduce or eliminate the need for scaffolding for construction and long-term maintenance?

Check out alternative construction methods. Say you’re working on a multi-story building. Could you reduce the dangers employees face when they work at height by building some structures at ground level or leveraging prefabricated modules? You can use a crane to lift them into position. Consider trenchless technology for utility work instead of having workers dig trenches and risk a trench collapse.

Consider every type of hazard. For instance, think about noise, which can cause permanent hearing loss. You may already be distributing hearing protection to workers, but have you considered specifying quiet pumps, generators and compressors for added protection? You can reduce workers’ exposure to silica dust by specifying cast crack inducers in concrete so workers aren’t exposed to the dust that comes with sawing joints. Use cast-in anchors for fall protection equipment instead of having to drill holes and fix them in place.

Get your workers involved in PtD. They’re at the front lines every day and may see many opportunities where a change in design could enhance project safety. Even if it’s too late to put their suggestions into practice on your current project, you can use those insights next time.

If you need help with PtD, a good place to start is NIOSH’s PtD page, which provides an overview of their national PtD initiative and has links to useful resources.

NIOSH also provides links to specific PtD education modules that cover the basics of PtD for architectural design and construction, reinforced concrete design, structural design and mechanical-electrical systems.


Mary Lou Jay is a freelance writer who has been covering business and technical developments in the residential and commercial construction industries for more than 25 years.