Everyone involved in a construction project has their own skillset, knowledge base, and experience. Each position looks at a project through a unique lens. Designers and architects look at what is being built, construction managers look at how to build it, and Environmental, Health, and Safety (EHS) professionals look at how to build it safely.
Historically, when companies wanted something built, one team designed it and another team built it. There was only as much cross-communication as was needed to get the job done. It was up to the trade companies who actually swung the hammers to figure out how to do it without hurting someone.
Unfortunately, this method leaves a lot of room for error. Regulatory standards can be missed during design, workers can be forced into dangerous situations, and efficiency suffers. This all adds up to missed deadlines, lost revenue, and increased costs from higher premiums, fines, and settlements.
The good news is that this is easily fixed. You can have the best of both worlds: projects that are budget-friendly and efficient without sacrificing any safety or quality. Safety by Design is a method of collaboration that brings design, EHS, and teams together to ensure that facilities are safe to build and safe to use. Here’s how we do it at CRB and how you can implement this approach.
Safety collaboration from conception through facility turnover
At CRB, we believe that a successful design is more than a beautiful building. We believe that the journey is as important as the destination. Why? Because the journey is where we save our workers’ lives and livelihood. It’s where we ensure the product the client receives is the best possible investment quality wise. And ultimately, the journey is where we save our clients’ money. This is Safety by Design.
In order to achieve this, CRB uses full team collaboration during every phase of each project. We know that everyone has something to bring to the table, and the sooner their experience can be put to use in the project, the better for everyone involved. When CRB designs a project, we don’t just look at structural integrity, we look at how the workers can build it safely.
CRB’s EHS team doesn’t just sit around on project sites checking permits and looking for hazards. At CRB they do so much more. Our EHS team works closely with CRB’s design group. The two teams collaborate constantly to ensure nothing is missed when it comes to regulatory standards, worker safety, or environmental considerations
From adding well-placed fall protection anchors for steel workers to designing dust mitigation strategies for workers’ health and clean-build protocols, CRB always endeavors to ensure the entire construction process is as safe as possible.
An example of our commitment to our Safety by Design philosophy happened on a recent project. Our original designs lacked sufficient access and egress for confined spaces in parts of the facility. This could have become a real safety issue both during construction and after the facility was turned over to the client. It also violated regulatory standards, which could have landed the client in hot water down the road.
However, because our EHS department and construction team were involved from the start, they caught the problem and fixed it before it became an issue. Everyone put their heads together and found a great solution that saved time, money, and potentially lives.
Ultimately, every project is unique, meaning that each involves its own set of challenges (safety and otherwise). Given the variety of concerns and issues you may run into, having experienced veterans of the trade at the table too is invaluable. Leveraging their expertise will cut out unnecessary research, decision-making, and second-guessing.
We’re currently guiding a client’s project team as they make decisions about their alarm system—what kind of alarms to install, what strobe lights are ideal, and how best to tie all of it into their existing system. It’s saving them a lot of time and money and giving them greater confidence that their finished facility will be exactly as it should be. Without our design, EHS, and construction teams working closely with the client from the start, they would have missed out on some golden opportunities to save money and increase the safety and efficiency of their investment.
How do we approach Safety by Design?
In order to reap the true rewards of this system, you have to start with a focus on safety, collaboration, and communication that permeates the entire project.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes the most obvious factors are the easiest to overlook.
In any complex project, establishing priorities is essential. If you emphasize efficiency or low costs while not making safety a priority, then you can expect incidents. Make safety a high priority from the beginning, and lead by example. This can be as simple as a daily safety brief during the build phase. Start each day showing your trade workers you take safety seriously.
This can also mean ensuring your construction management team knows regulatory standards. Consider providing training to your team so everyone is knowledgeable about relevant codes and requirements. If the construction team knows the guidelines—like how wide a hallway should be—and they’re given the authority to speak up, they can help by being a last line of defense against a costly mistake, design flaw, or code violation.
Efficiency matters, budget matters, quality matters—and safety matters, too. Make that abundantly clear right from the start, and then carry it through to turnover and beyond.
In order to get the most out of the varied skills and perspectives of different teams, silos have to come down. Get the design team, the EHS team, the project team, and even the local authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs) all sitting at the same table from the beginning.
Every group and every individual has the potential to offer valuable input. Don’t leave anyone out. Tear down walls and build bridges. CRB proves this works by consistently being an industry leader in worker safety, design innovation, and customer satisfaction.
This collaboration and communication needs to happen in every phase of the project, from the beginning to the end. At CRB, we involve our design, EHS, and construction team in every phase. Constructability reviews and input happen during the design stage as well as design reviews of contractor scopes and work plans.
For instance, we often have our engineers review the work plan for passivation of the sanitary piping systems—a process of cycling hot acid solution through the sanitary piping lines to create a passive layer within the pipe for corrosion resistance. We design valving and shut off points into these systems to make the dangerous process as easy and safe to execute in the field as possible. Then, through the work plan review, we make sure that the people doing the actual work follow strict safety parameters.
Although additional valving for this process does cost more, we’ve found that temporary workarounds can be even more costly—not to mention the potential cost of a dangerous spill.
Even if someone sees a potential risk or thinks up a better idea for a design, it won’t do anyone any good if it doesn’t reach the right ears. You have to make sure that those ears are always open. Put egos aside and give everyone their chance to provide input. Get the teams discussing safety openly, transparently, and honestly.
Be willing to listen and encourage everyone else to do the same. If someone shares an idea that doesn’t go anywhere, you haven’t lost anything but a few minutes of your time. If someone notices inherent dangers in a design but doesn’t feel like they have the right to speak up, you might lose a whole lot more.
Make safety a value
In a market where everything has to be faster and cheaper, it’s more important than ever to develop a culture that views safety as a value. Preaching safety after an incident doesn’t work. It has to start from the beginning. We’ve seen first-hand what a difference it can make for us and for our clients.
When you bring teams together, promote healthy communication, and maintain safety front-and-center, everyone wins.