Design in safety before construction starts

By - , Build 129

Costs can be lowered and accidents avoided if time is spent thinking about safety at a project’s design stage. This can range from the number of employees and the materials used, through to putting in permanent safety systems.

From experience, Steve Cassidy of Cassidy Construction knows just how important considering safety in the design phase can be over the lifetime of a job. He has a message for all specifiers, designers and building owners – they can have a positive impact on health and safety in the construction phase by considering the construction implications of decisions made in the design phase. Things to think about include:

  • eliminating hazards, rather than isolating or minimising them, for example:
    • reducing on site labour which reduces the hours at risk
    • reducing work at height
  • seeking contractor input on constructability at feasibility and design stages
  • selecting structure and materials that are prefabricated off site, such as precast concrete wall panels and prefinished insulated panel systems for roofing and ceilings
  • installing permanent roof safety systems, even on smaller buildings, to help manage work at height.

Vector walking the talk

Cassidy Construction undertakes mainly industrial-type construction and contracts for infrastructure companies such as Vector Ltd and Watercare Services Ltd. Steve Cassidy cites the clean-slate approach Vector introduced to the design of a template substation for greenfield sites as a great example of these strategies in action.

Historically, the specifications for Vector substations included blockwork, carpentry and plasterboard 2-storeys high, requiring plenty of labour working at height.


For the new template, Vector sought the input of people who represented the build’s entire construction life cycle. They included staff from Cassidy Construction, the asset managers and the maintenance managers. Looking to improve productivity and management, they constructively thought about how they could do the jobs better and brainstormed a new building design.

One of the outcomes was to reduce the number of high-risk jobs, resulting in 30% lower building costs and 33% less specialist trades on site. ‘In reducing the amount of activity and number of people on site, you reduce risk,’ says Steve Cassidy. ‘If a project is easy to build, it is safer. Eliminate the hazard completely and make these decisions at the beginning of the job.

‘The Vector clean-slate approach wasn’t health and safety driven – but this was a huge upside.’

Design in permanent roof access

Another client of Cassidy Construction with the foresight to add safety systems at the design stage is Watercare Services. In new roofs, they specify and design roof safety access systems and pay a premium for trafficable clear roof light products.

Including permanent roof safety access systems on smaller buildings at the brief and design stage is of significant benefit in managing work at height and should be specified and budgeted for. While larger buildings generally have permanent systems, this is often not the case on a smaller project.

The advantages of installing a permanent roof safety access system early in the construction phase include:

  • safe roof access during construction so the hazard of working at height is managed
  • all workers can clip onto the line and work safely, for example, as the roof is laid, during final screw off and when flashings, barges and gutters are installed
  • helps manage safety of other trades, consultants and clients who wish to carry out inspections.

Once construction is completed, a permanent system provides safe access for maintenance, and the cost of providing access and anchors retrospectively is not a consideration.

Steve Cassidy says the extra outlay is worth it. ‘The capital cost is minimal in terms of what benefits it gives to the whole project. On-going costs to service would also be minimal.’

Summing up

Foresight and managed consultation of a project at the design stage can result in the building development being more productive, economical and safe. This type of consultation can be done for a project of any scale.

The message is to plan and consider the impacts that design decisions will have on construction and workers over the life cycle of a project.

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