Chapter 34.3: Health and Safety in Design

Chapter 34.3: Health and Safety in Design

The concept of safe design or ‘prevention through design’ has developed in response to the recognition of the relationship between design and the risk of injury or ill health to ‘users’ of the designed product. Incorporating health and safety early in the design process is effective from prevention and financial perspectives. The generalist OHS professional should be a workplace advocate for healthy and safe design, encouraging critical thinking as part of the design process and, when appropriate, a coordinator of specialist expertise. Rather than considering design as a linear process, the OHS professional should identify design as a complex, multi-stakeholder, iterative process applying to the full life cycle of the designed product. Taking account of this complexity, this chapter discusses the design process and the implications for OHS practice, including relevant principles of safe design, and appends a design-process tool to guide the OHS professional in stimulating critical analysis of safety and health impacts.

Keywords: design, safe design, prevention through design, safety, health

First year of publication: 2019
Current Version: 2019

Chapter 34.3: Health and Safety in Design

Table of contents

1 Introduction
1.1 Definitions
2 Extent of the problem
3 Historical perspective
3.1 Engineering design
3.2 Ergonomics and human factors in design
3.3 Safe design
3.4 Design thinking and human-centred design
4 Legislation and standards
5 Human variability in complex sociotechnical systems
6 Design for the future
7 The design process
7.1 Design stages
7.2 Consultation and engagement
7.3 System analysis
7.4 Technical design
7.5 Hazard and risk analysis
7.6 Design decision making
7.7 Design’ in the procurement process
8 The role of the professionals
8.1 Engineers
8.2 Ergonomists
8.3 Occupational hygienists and occupational physicians
8.4 OHS professionals
9 The importance of safe design in practice
10 Implications for OHS practice
11 Summary
Appendix 1: OHS in the design process – A tool for OHS professionals


Expert Advisors

David Caple AM DipEd (Sec), BSc(Hons), MSc
Director, David Caple & Associates Pty Ltd; Adjunct Professor, La Trobe University

David has been a Director of David Caple & Associates Pty Ltd since 1984. He leads work health and safety research and practice projects for governments and industry groups.

Nan Austin MM, GDipM, MBA
Health and Safety Manager, University of Waikato, New Zealand

Nan Austin has over 20 years’ experience as an OHS professional with a focus in the development and auditing of robust safety and injury management systems which have delivered positive financial outcomes and productivity gains in tertiary education and health industries.

Fiona Begg BAppSc(OT), GradDipErg, CPE
Principal, Fiona Begg OHS Consulting; Senior OHS Consultant, Melbourne Health

Building on her expertise in workplace design, office ergonomics and the health industry, Fiona has worked part time as the Senior OHS Consultant for Melbourne Health for 20 years in addition to running her own private practice.

Chris Fitzgerald DipAppSc, GradDipErg, CPE
Director & Principal, Risk & Injury Management Services Pty Ltd

Chris has 30 years’ experience as an ergonomist. His focus is on improving the design of workplace systems and physical environments to enhance operational systems while reducing injury risks.

Geoff Hurst BE(Mech), GDOHM, FIEAust, CPEng, NER, ChOHSP, MIAF
Principal, ENGENEOHS; President, Risk Engineering Society

Geoff has a combination of engineering and OHS qualifications and experience working with complex systems, design methodologies, ergonomics and organisational cultural change across multiple industry sectors.

Colin McLean DipSc, GDOHM, MAppSc(OHS), ChOHSP, FSIA
Director, Principal Consultant, ERGOSH
Safety Management Services Pty Ltd Colin has more than 30 years’ experience in OHS. He has particular interest in risk assessment and incident causation, and extensive experience in investigation and working with legal firms representing clients.

Tim Rigby BEng(Elec), MIEAust, CPEng, NER
Global Business Unit Risk Manager, Mining and Metal, Bechtel Corporation Tim has more than 35 years’ experience in the engineering and construction industry in Australia and internationally, working in design, commissioning, engineering management, project development, project management and risk management.

Content Editor

Pam Pryor AO BSc, BEd, GDOHM, MAppSci, ChOHSP, CFSIA
Manager, OHS Body of Knowledge Development

Learning Outcomes

The OHS Body of Knowledge takes a conceptual approach which enables it to be applied in different contexts and frameworks. To optimise its value for education and professional development learning outcomes have been developed for each technical chapter in the Body of Knowledge.

The learning outcomes as described give an indication of what should be the capabilities of a new graduate OHS professional in the workplace. I t is up to those developing OHS education programs, OHS professionals planning their CPD or recruiters or employers selecting or developing people for the OHS function to consider the required breadth vs. depth


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3M Science of Safety Podcast – Episode 54 Health and Safety in Design
David introduces the chapter which positions generalist OHS professionals as workplace advocates for healthy and safe design, encouraging critical thinking as part of the design process and, when appropriate, a coordinator of specialist expertise.
Date: 2019
Presenter/s: David Caple, Director David Caple and Associates, Adjunct Professor Ergonomics Latrobe University

3M Science of Safety Podcast – Ep. 69 Do safety in design processes change the design?
Is safety and design effective? Risk shuffling. Russell’s key findings. The hierarchy of controls. The proper use of safety and design. Evaluating design to minimise risk. Practical advice from Russell.
Date: 2021
Presenter/s:David Provan & Russell Mc Mullan


OHS in the Design Process – A Tool for OHS Professionals

These questions and responses were generated through workshop discussion by the panel of expert advisors that supported the development of the OHS BoK chapter 34.3 Health and Safety in Design. Questions and matters for consideration have been enhanced through reference to Read (2015) and Plattner (2017).

Use of the checklist should be informed by knowledge of the content of OHS BoK chapter 34.3 Health and Safety in Design.