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How Your Architect Can Help You Have a Safer Worksite

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When it comes to reducing injuries and deaths in the construction industry, there is a growing emphasis on the use of Safety by Design principles. The goal is to take the highest order approach to reducing risks by designing buildings and construction methodologies in a way that makes the process of construction a safer one.

Safe Work Australia has produced a model code of practice for Safe Design of Structures, which sets out many of the fundamental principles and approaches. While everyone involved in a building lifecycle has responsibility for safety, it starts in the earliest stages, when a project’s architects can play a key role in ensuring the building team has a safer workplace.

The National President of the Australian Institute of Architects, Clare Cousins, tells Jobsite that achieving Safety by Design is ideally the result of a project involving a collaborative process between the architect and builder.

There is a responsibility for safety in design—both for the occupants of a finished project and those building it.

According to Cousins, among the numerous priorities an architect needs to juggle, such as the client brief, the budget and compliance with the National Construction Code, there is a responsibility for safety in design—both for the occupants of a finished project and those building it.

In terms of designing for occupant safety, that means thinking about how people will use a house. That includes details like what they will use an anchor point if they have to access the roof for maintenance or the slip ratings of floor finishes.

To apply the same thinking to the buildability of a design when it comes to reducing risks for the trades and project team, having an “early conversation” is key.

It is also valuable to have the architect involved during the build process, Cousins says, building a collaboration between the architect and the builder so that the execution and the design intent are aligned.

This ongoing involvement also means that if a builder discovers during a process that an element needs to change to de-risk the process, for example, the length of a beam, the design expertise is on-hand to assist.

Where things can get difficult in terms of the architect’s influence is when a project has been commenced by an early works package before the building’s final detail design has been completed.

Cousins says this can become expensive for both the architect and the builder as the project proceeds—variations from the initial tender scope often occur as the detailed design is completed.

The preference from an architect’s point of view would be for Novation to occur only after the point of full design development. “That also reduces the risk for builders costing a design when it is not yet fully resolved,” Cousins says.

The prefabrication approach requires a “huge investment” in terms of time up front during the planning stage from both the architect and the manufacturer.

Another approach that can lead to safer projects is the use of prefabrication for building elements or large parts of the structure or envelope, Cousins says. However, in order to use prefabrication, architects need to understand the process. It is especially important now since, Cousins points out, the use of prefabrication is on the rise.

There is also a safety dividend with prefab, as workers are in the controlled factory environment, and carrying out the majority of tasks at ground level.

The prefabrication approach requires a “huge investment” in terms of time up front during the planning stage from both the architect and the manufacturer, Cousins says.

The use of Building Information Modelling is critical, as the 3D model is used to inform all of the machining and other manufacturing processes. The advantage of BIM is the model results in a fully-designed building, Cousins says.

There is little in the way of design variation applied after construction commences—even the services will have been considered well in advance. That means BIM also ensures full coordination occurs between the architect, engineers, consultants, builder, and major trades.

Cousin’s own practice moved to full 3D design modelling, and she says it has been “hugely beneficial.”

The model includes everything, and it can be used to produce both 2D drawings for the project team and trades as well as be exported to an app, BIMX, which enables a builder or client to examine the building in 3D via an iPad.

Where a builder does see something in the design that poses a high risk to worker safety, Cousins advises they should have a “clear, direct conversation” with the architect about it.

She says many of the builders they work with have also been sharing the app and its 3D model with their trades.

Where a builder does see something in the design that poses a high risk to worker safety, Cousins advises they should have a “clear, direct conversation” with the architect about it. If the issue is a structural one, that conversation might also involve the engineer.

She says that builders may also think of a solution to something they have identified and bring the new idea to the architect, leading to modification of the design.

In addition to the resources available from organisations like Safe Work Australia and the Federal Safety Commissioner, there are training courses available to help builders, designers, engineers and project managers gain greater expertise in Safety by Design approaches. Consult Australia, for example, has workshops planned for Sydney and Canberra in October and November this year.

If you liked this article, here are a few eBooks and webinars you may enjoy:

Building a Culture of Safety – One Hard Hat at a Time

How Tech is Controlling Your Quality & Safety Program

The 10 Most Critical Factors in Construction Safety

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