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Automation in Construction 8 Ž1999.


Addressing construction worker safety in the design phase

Designing for construction worker safety
J. Gambatese , J. Hinze
UniÕersity of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA

Accepted 29 October 1998


Facility designers can positively influence construction site safety by integrating safety considerations into the design
process. Although their potential influence on safety has been documented, designers typically lack knowledge of and limit
their involvement in construction worker safety. This research effort involved the accumulation of suggestions for improving
construction worker safety while in the design phase. Using these design suggestions, a design tool has been developed to
assist designers in identifying project-specific safety hazards and to provide best practices to eliminate the hazards. Although
use of the design tool is voluntary in the United States, it is one resource which can be used by designers to fulfill their
obligations required by the Construction ŽDesign and Management. Regulations in UK. q 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All
rights reserved.

Keywords: Construction worker; Design; Hazards; Injuries; Safety

1. Introduction conditions. While many construction parties might

ultimately bear a portion of these costs, the responsi-
In the past decade, construction worker safety has bility has primarily been placed on the employer,
become a major concern of the United States con- typically the general contractor.
struction industry. This is due in part to the high Through the highly litigious nature of the U.S.
costs associated with construction worker injuries, construction industry, many parties have been
including the costs of workers’ compensation insur- brought into litigation regarding worker injuries. This
ance, the indirect costs of injuries, the increased is especially true of owners, a party to the construc-
chance of liability suits, and also the rise in criminal tion project which is often viewed as possessing the
prosecutions of employers who allow work in unsafe most resources. As a result, many owners have be-
come more concerned about safety performance on
) their projects. Increased concern is evident in con-
Corresponding author
Present address: Department of Civil and Environmental En-
tract language which has tended to become more
gineering, University of Nevada, 4505 Maryland Pkwy, Las Ve- proactive on safety. It is also evidenced through the
gas, NV, USA. increased role that owners now play in monitoring

0926-5805r99r$ - see front matter q 1999 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 9 2 6 - 5 8 0 5 Ž 9 8 . 0 0 1 0 9 - 5
644 J. Gambatese, J. Hinzer Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 643–649

project safety during construction. In addition, own- struction of the project. By working together in the
ers commonly award contracts to firms who have same firm, they begin to appreciate each other’s
demonstrated the ability to deliver projects safely. concerns. For example, the construction personnel
Despite the changes that have taken place in past might alert the designer of how a particular connec-
years, there remains one party that has not been tion could hinder worker safety. Good ideas will be
involved in safety. This party is the designer. Safety remembered and used on subsequent projects. It is
has been a topic which, all too often, is overlooked unfortunate that this design knowledge is not accu-
until the start of the construction phase. This practice mulated and stored in a central location for all
ignores the effect that designers have on construction designers to access. The development of a central
safety. Perhaps no one has previously considered the body of knowledge is an important first step in
role that designers play in influencing construction improving the way that safety is addressed by de-
safety. signers. This body of knowledge must then be shared
Designers play a very real role in influencing by some means with the design community.
construction worker safety. It is the design that
dictates how a project will appear and how a particu-
lar project or its components will be assembled. The 2. Literature search
methods of assembly are often not recognized as
being dictated by the designers. In reality, designers Ideas on how to design for construction worker
influence many decisions about how construction safety have not been well-publicized in the past.
tasks are undertaken. Unfortunately, designers have Literature discussing the subject is sparse. Research
not been cognizant of their influence and, as a and publications on construction worker safety has
profession, they have not acknowledged the impor- mainly focused on the constructor’s role because
tance or relevance of their role in safety. Some Occupational Safety and Health Administration
designers have stated that, in order to minimize their ŽOSHA. places the responsibility for safety on the
liability exposure, they deliberately avoid addressing employer’s shoulders. The importance of the de-
construction safety. signer’s role in safety has only been briefly men-
In the United States, designers are being encour- tioned. There is evidence of a need to educate and
aged by some owners to specifically address con- involve the design community w2x, and to eliminate
struction worker safety in their designs. Designer the ‘hands off’ attitude designers often express to-
involvement in the U.S. has largely been a voluntary wards construction worker safety w3x.
effort. A clear shift from this is occurring in Great A recent study on the role of designers in con-
Britain where recently enacted legislation, titled struction worker safety provides the most relevant
Construction ŽDesign and Management. Regulations information about design decisions concerning safety
w1x, has imposed an obligation on designers to ad- w4x. The study consisted of surveying design firms
dress safety during the construction phase. and firms conducting constructability reviews regard-
A common problem designers mention when their ing their involvement in safety. Conclusions from the
influence on safety is intimated is that they lack the study indicate that ‘‘for safety of construction work-
skills and training to address construction worker ers to be addressed by designers on a regular basis or
safety. While they might admit that their designs as an integral design function on all projects, a
impact safety performance, they contend that they do dramatic change must occur in the mindset of the
not know how to change their designs to improve or design profession.’’ The authors recommend that
ensure safety. This brings up the need for a central ‘‘one of the means by which designers can become
body of knowledge available for designers to address more responsive to the safety needs of construction
safety in their designs. workers is through education. Designers must be
Some designers, especially those in design–build made aware of the various means by which their
firms, already address construction worker safety in design decisions impact the jobsite safety conditions
their designs. These designers, of course, work with for construction workers. Such an educational pro-
their fellow colleagues who are responsible for con- cess could begin with a compilation of the various
J. Gambatese, J. Hinzer Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 643–649 645

design approaches that have successfully addressed In addition to the search for existing best practices
construction worker safety on past projects.’’ to improve construction site safety, the research ef-
fort included the development of additional design
suggestions. Three resources were accessed for de-
3. Research methodology
veloping additional design suggestions: worker safety
The main objective of this research was to search manuals, safety design manuals and checklists, and
for and develop design suggestions or ‘best prac- the research team’s personal knowledge and experi-
tices’ which could be implemented in the design ence.
phase in order to improve safety during construction. It was felt that additional design suggestions could
The accumulated design suggestions would form the be developed from a review of typical construction
database of knowledge for a design tool to facilitate site hazards and the safety measures prescribed to
their implementation. eliminate or reduce those hazards. The first source
To fulfill the objective of compiling design sug- utilized to develop design suggestions was worker
gestions, the research effort focused on the construc- safety manuals, such as the OSHA, Army Corps of
tion community itself. The goal of this effort was to Engineers, and other state construction safety manu-
compile as many design suggestions as possible. All als. These manuals were created to provide guidance
safety suggestions applicable to the design phase of for safety practices and conditions on construction
any type and size of project were recorded. No sites, and to direct and regulate construction site
design suggestions were discarded based on cost, safety. In reviewing these manuals, an attempt was
schedule, relative risk reduction, or other design or made to develop design suggestions which would
construction performance criteria. eliminate the need to apply the safety measures or
Although designing for construction worker safety the dangers experienced during implementation of
has only recently been publicized, it was anticipated the safety measures.
that some ideas have been developed and are cur- Another source of suggestions was safety design
rently in use. Existing design suggestions were sought manuals and checklists. Many large companies, as
from two resources: construction industry literature well as state and national agencies, use safety design
and personnel. As part of the literature search de- manuals or checklists to address safety in terms of
scribed above, academic research and industry work the ‘end-user’, such as the office worker, motorist, or
presented in various publications were reviewed for plant operator. A review of these manuals and check-
applicable design suggestions. All design suggestions lists by the researchers focused on applying the
found were extracted and noted. techniques used for enhancing end-user safety to
In addition to the literature search, construction safety during construction.
industry personnel were contacted to solicit existing
design suggestions. In-person and telephone inter-
views were conducted to directly access their knowl- 4. Research results
edge and gain from their past experiences. Major
public and private parties involved in construction To date, the research effort to collect design
projects, including owners, designers, constructors, suggestions has been very successful. Since the start
design-builders, and construction managers, were in- of the research in early 1994, over 400 design sug-
terviewed. In order to reflect the entire breadth of the gestions have been accumulated. All of the design
construction industry, firms of various design and suggestions are included in the final working version
construction disciplines were targeted. So that haz- of the design tool.
ards of all types would be addressed, the interviews All of the targeted resources proved to be valu-
focused on firms of various sizes and on personnel able sources of design suggestions. Table 1 reveals
involved in a diversity of projects. Personnel em- that the majority of suggestions came from safety
ployed at a variety of levels within a firm were design manuals and checklists. A good proportion
interviewed to gain information which reflected vari- also came directly from the researchers and research
ous levels of work experience. team members and through interviews with industry
646 J. Gambatese, J. Hinzer Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 643–649

Table 1 architectural features of work. Suggestions may re-

Design suggestion sources late to more than one design discipline.
Source Number of Ž%. The accumulated design suggestions can also be
sorted according to what project component is af-
Safety design manuals and checklists 140 35.4 fected. Table 3 reveals that piping was addressed
Researchers and research team members 98 24.8
most often, followed by electricalrinstrumentation
Interviews Žin-person, telephone. 80 20.3
OSHA ŽCFR, publications, data. 34 8.6 and mechanicalrHVAC components. Similar to the
Journal articles and periodicals 29 7.4 design disciplines described above, each suggestion
Other 14 3.5 may apply to more than one project component.
Total 395 100 Components typically designed by the structural
engineer Žfoundation, structural framing, slab-on-
grade, floor, roof, stairs, ladders, ramps, walkways,
platforms. were addressed a total of 145 times
personnel. Safety design manuals and checklists typi- Ž36.7%.. Similarly, components typically within the
cally address hazards during the startup, operation, architect’s scope of work Žfurnishings, finishes, pro-
and maintenance phases of a project. This resource ject layout, structure planrelevation, doors, win-
was particularly fertile due to the close relationship dows, handrails, guardrails., together with the work
between the construction and startup phases, and the schedulersequence, were addressed a total of 120
construction and maintenance phases. As a result, the times Ž30.4%.. These percentages are echoed in the
design tool will also be useful for improving safety significant number of suggestions which relate to the
in the startup and maintenance phases. structural and architectural disciplines shown in Table
The relative success of the interview process can 2.
be attributed to the construction industry’s interest All types of construction site hazards are ad-
and willingness to improve safety. This process re- dressed by the design suggestions. The majority of
vealed that personnel in construction and design– the suggestions, as shown in Table 4, relate to
build firms were able to contribute a substantial hazards that may result in falls, followed by electri-
amount of information. These types of firms are cal shocks, cave-ins, and explosions. Many falls on
directly affected by construction worker accidents construction sites occur due to the structural and
and injuries, and their personnel know the inherent architectural scope of work—the design of beams,
hazards in specific designs. Personnel in architectural columns, walls, stairways, ladders, etc. Thus, the
and consulting engineering firms were not as knowl-
edgeable concerning design suggestions, possibly re-
sulting from a lack of formal education about con-
struction worker safety and their minimal involve- Table 2
ment in overseeing jobsite safety. Design disciplines addressed by design suggestions
On-site personnel and others who frequently visit Design discipline Number of Percentage of
jobsites provided the most design suggestions. These times addressed recorded suggestionsa
individuals are involved in day-to-day construction Structural 131 33.2
activities and regularly address jobsite hazards. Simi- Architectural 120 30.4
lar design suggestions were offered by personnel Pipingrplumbing 76 19.2
MechanicalrHVAC 68 17.2
who are involved in the design and construction of
Electricalrinstrumentation 67 17.0
similar types of facilities. Civilrtransportation 64 16.2
The great diversity of the construction industry Construction management 56 14.2
led to the accumulation of design suggestions which Other 23 5.8
reflect all types of design disciplines, project compo- Total 605
nents, and jobsite hazards. With respect to design a
Since design suggestions may address more than one design
disciplines, as shown in Table 2, the most significant discipline, these numbers Žexpressed as a percentage of the 395
number of suggestions address the structural and recorded suggestions. exceed 100%.
J. Gambatese, J. Hinzer Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 643–649 647

Table 3 many which might be regarded as subsets of struck

Project components addressed by design suggestions by and caught inrbetween.
Project component Number of Percentage of The following is a sample of the design for safety
times addressed recorded suggestionsa
suggestions recorded:
Piping 69 17.5 Ž1. Suggestion: design components to facilitate
Electricalrinstrumentation 56 14.2
pre-fabrication in the shop or on the ground so that
MechanicalrHVAC 54 13.7
Structural framing 47 11.9 they may be erected in place as complete assemblies.
Stairs, ladder, ramp 43 10.9 Purpose: reduce worker exposure to falls from
Work schedulersequence 40 10.1 elevation and being struck by falling objects.
Roads, paving, flatwork 32 8.1 Ž2. Suggestion: design parapets to be 42 in. Ž1.07
Slab-on-grade, floor, roof 30 7.6
m. tall.
General conditionsr 26 6.6
special provisions Purpose: while the Uniform Building Code stan-
Earthwork, sewer, etc. 24 6.1 dards require parapets to be just 30 in. tall Ž0.76 m.,
Furnishings, finishes 20 5.1 modifying the design to increase the parapet height
Structure planrelevation 19 4.8 to 42 in. Ž1.07 m. would also satisfy OSHA guardrail
Door, window 16 4.1
requirements. This modification eliminates the need
Project layout 15 3.8
Foundation 14 3.5 to construct guardrails during construction, and also
Tank, vessel 14 3.5 during future roof maintenance operations.
Technical specifications 13 3.3 Ž3. Suggestion: design beam-to-column double-
Walkway, platform 11 2.8 connections to have continual support for the beams
Contract drawings 10 2.5
during the connection process by adding a beam seat,
Handrail, guardrail 10 2.5
Total 563 extra bolt hole, or other redundant connection point.
Purpose: continual support for beams during erec-
Since design suggestions may address more than one project tion will eliminate falls due to unexpected vibrations,
component, these numbers Žexpressed as a percentage of the 395 mis-alignment, and unexpected construction loads.
recorded suggestions. exceed 100%.
Table 4
Construction site hazards addressed by design suggestions
resulting large number of suggestions related to falls
Construction site hazard Number of Percentage of
is expected based on the large number of suggestions
times addressed recorded suggestionsa
related to structural and architectural disciplines and
Falls 133 33.7
components noted in Tables 2 and 3.
Electrical shock 59 14.9
The construction site hazards addressed by the Cave-in 53 13.4
design suggestions are distributed in a manner simi- Explosions 52 13.2
lar to OSHA’s fatality statistics. OSHA’s analysis of Fire 41 10.4
construction fatalities from 1985 to 1989 w5x revealed Toxic substances 33 8.4
Work area 31 7.8
that the majority of fatalities Ž33%. were due to falls
Environmentrclimate 28 7.1
from elevation. This is comparable to the percentage Vehicular traffic 25 6.3
of suggestions recorded that relate to fall hazards On-line equipment 20 5.1
Ž33.7%.. Similarly, the percentage of suggestions Struck by objects 20 5.1
recorded that relate to electrical shock hazards Worker issues 18 4.6
Ž14.9%., is close to OSHA’s reported electrocutions Obstructions 17 4.3
Heavy equipment 12 3.0
that amounted to 17% of all fatalities. Although Confined spaces 10 2.5
OSHA statistics show that ‘struck by’ and ‘caught Caught inrbetween 6 1.5
inrbetween’ hazards are responsible for 22% and Lighting 5 1.3
18% of the fatalities, respectively, similar high per- Total 563
centages are not reflected in the distribution of a
Since design suggestions may address more than one jobsite
recorded suggestions. This is probably due to the hazard, these numbers Žexpressed as a percentage of the 395
additional categories that are reflected in Table 4, recorded suggestions. exceed 100%.
648 J. Gambatese, J. Hinzer Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 643–649

Ž4. Suggestion: allow adequate clearance between cally not involved in the safety watch. Designers
the structure and overhead power lines. Bury, dis- typically distance themselves from the responsibility
connect, or re-route existing power lines around the for construction worker safety mainly because of
project before construction begins. their lack of knowledge of safe designs and the
Purpose: overhead power lines which are in ser- possibility of increasing their liability exposure. To-
vice during construction are hazardous when operat- day’s design codes and regulations in the U.S. reflect
ing cranes and other tall equipment. this attitude, and worker safety rests on the construc-
Ž5. Suggestion: design and schedule a permanent tors’ shoulders. Currently, no national reference stan-
stairway to be constructed at the beginning, or as dards exist to bridge the gap between existing design
close as possible to the start, of construction. standards and construction worker safety.
Purpose: timely erection of permanent stairways In Great Britain, the CDM Regulations have suc-
can help eliminate fall and other hazards associated cessfully addressed the need for designers to focus
with temporary stairs and scaffolding. on worker safety, and outline mandatory steps for
Included in the research effort was the compila- action. The CDM Regulations direct the designer to
tion of the recorded design suggestions into a design participate in the identification and reduction of
tool. The main objective of the design tool was to health and safety risks. ‘‘The Regulations are not
provide a simple means by which a designer could prescriptive; they avoid setting standards. Emphasis
be alerted of project-specific construction safety haz- is placed on identifying hazards and the assessment
ards, and be introduced to a variety of design sugges- of risk w6x.’’ The CDM Regulations require designers
tions which would eliminate or reduce the identified to play a role in the identification of risks, with
hazards. To fulfill this objective, a computer pro- limited guidance on how this assessment is to be
gram, titled Design For Construction Safety Tool- made. ‘‘Many designers currently lack skills in de-
Box, was created. signing to avoid or reduce health and safety risk and
The program allows the user to access the sugges- they feel uncomfortable and threatened by the
tions by focusing on the project in one of three ways wRxegulations w7x.’’ ‘‘The challenge facing designers
or paths: project components, construction site haz- is the ability to seek out and discover or develop
ards, or project systems. Regardless of the path other techniques or construction methods to produce
taken, the user has complete access to all of the the same or similar results than a more inherently
design suggestions. All of the topics within each high risk option w6x.’’ ‘‘It is suggested then that the
category can be independently addressed. By select- designer develops a methodical approach to record-
ing a topic Žcomponent, hazard, or system., the ing the design considerations with reasoned out-
program narrows its focus to only safety concerns comes w6x.’’
and design suggestions regarding the topic chosen. Complimenting the British effort, this research
After selecting a topic, the program presents ques- takes that next step in addressing construction worker
tions about the project. Answers to the questions safety. In an effort to provide designers with the
guide the program’s search for applicable safety required knowledge and tools, design suggestions
concerns and design suggestions. The program then have been accumulated which provide designers
presents safety concerns and various design sugges- practical examples of how to design for construction
tions to mitigate those concerns. worker safety. A workable software package has
been developed which can effectively and efficiently
address project-specific hazards on all types and
5. Conclusions sizes of construction projects. The design tool will be
useful not only for improving safety in the construc-
Although interest in construction worker safety in tion phase of a project, but also during the startup,
the United States has expanded to owners of con- maintenance, and de-commissioning phases.
struction projects, this interest has not spread While designer involvement in construction
throughout the design community. Except for those worker safety in the U.S. is voluntary, the CDM
employed in design–build firms, designers are typi- Regulations are mandatory. The Design For Con-
J. Gambatese, J. Hinzer Automation in Construction 8 (1999) 643–649 649

struction Safety ToolBox is one resource which can when owners, those employing the designers, insist
be used by designers to fulfill their obligations re- that designers address construction safety concerns.
quired by the CDM Regulations in Great Britain. It Thus, owners must provide the initial impetus, by
is interesting that this research seems to have the requesting or requiring through contract terms, that
same general objective as the CDM Regulations. designers consider construction worker safety in their
There is little overlap in the actual work, and in fact, designs.
the efforts are highly complimentary. Distribution and use of the design tool will help
foster this change in the construction industry. Ex-
tensive use of the tool will generate additional design
6. Recommendations suggestions which can then be cycled back into the
software in future versions. Continued use of the tool
Consideration of construction worker safety by will also lead to further development of the program’s
designers can eliminate common safety hazards and functionality to better fit the needs of the design
reduce worker injuries. These benefits lead to a community.
reduction in project costs and liability potential. Al-
though these points are widely understood and ac-
cepted, a gap exists between constructors and design- References
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