The Next Big Step in Safety: Prevention Through Design (PtD)

Some general contractors may not recognize the term Prevention through Design (PtD), but many are adopting practices associated with it, according to a recently released report on safety management in the construction industry from Dodge Data & Analytics.

PtD involves anticipating and designing out hazards that could cause construction workers to get hurt on the job. It encourages everyone on the project team to find ways to reduce or eliminate hazards, starting with the architect’s design and extending through contractors’ and subcontractors’ daily operations and choice of equipment, tools and materials.

The U.S. Green Builing Council offers a LEED pilot credit for PtD.

In its survey of 334 general and trade contractors, Dodge found that just over half (52 percent) of general contractors surveyed were familiar with PtD. But once the researchers defined it for the respondents, 67 percent of GCs said they were using aspects of it on their jobs.

A first line of defense

Construction can be an inherently dangerous business, but increasingly, contractors are taking steps to design out jobsite hazards so workers never face them,” said Jim Dorris, vice president of health, safety and environment for United Rentals. “PtD is a first line of defense, whereas personal protective equipment is a last line of defense. Unlike PPE, eliminating a hazard at the source brings the chances of related injury down to near zero.”

PtD is also used early in the life cycle of a project to minimize hazards rather than eliminate them.

There are countless ways to implement PtD. Many survey respondents do it by installing permanent safety features; that could mean incorporating fall protection anchors into steel beams, for example. Some reported using modular structures or prefabrication, which has many benefits, including increased jobsite safety. Others have employed BIM to identify and eliminate potential problems areas on a job. A relatively small percentage say they build parapet walls above roof surfaces or put grates on skylight openings to protect workers from falling through.

General contractors appear to be the most knowledgeable members of the building team when it comes to PtD. Only 34 of trade subcontractors knew what it is, and only 19 percent of architects had heard of it. Those findings may reflect the different responsibilities of the building team; GCs take charge of the overall site and of the work that’s done there, so they have the greatest stake in ensuring that everyone remains safe.

Barriers to adoption

The top barrier to PtD adoption cited by contractors was lack of knowledge about how to do it. Even though architects control the design process and are thus in a better position to design in safety features, only about one-third of the GCs considered lack of influence on the design process a barrier.

Integrated project delivery is one way GCs can give safety input when it counts most. As the report notes, “Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) and Design-Build methods bring a contractor’s perspective to the early design phases in which decisions critical to PtD are made.”

Contractors interviewed for the Dodge report believe that the adoption of PtD might become more widespread if building owners/clients request it and if insurance companies offer incentives for projects that incorporate it into their design and construction.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has a wealth of how-to information on its Prevention through Design page. And check out “5 Steps to Implementing Prevention through Design (PtD).”