Study shows app can help designers create safer spaces
Digital apps can help construction project designers create safer buildings by improving their knowledge of hazards during the design phase, new research has shown. The research was funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in Leicestershire, U.K., and conducted by researchers from Glasgow Caledonian University in Glasgow, U.K.
The study found that the use of a multimedia digital tool can help educate designers on typical design-related hazards and assist them in designing safety into construction projects more effectively.
Many professional design institutions have been gradually withdrawing the requirement for architects and civil engineers to spend prolonged periods of time on construction sites. As a result, many designers lack the construction knowledge needed to understand how their designs could impact occupational safety and health so contractors often take on the responsibility for building designs, according to IOSH.
However, research shows that up to half of construction accidents in the UK have a connection to the design of the building. This highlights the importance of improving designers’ knowledge of hazards and designing safety into developments from the outset of projects, the organization notes.
“A key factor for this research was the visual nature of the digital tool’s content, which seemed to work best with new graduates. But its real potential lies in being able to capture tacit knowledge from more experienced designers for the next generation to counter the age-old problem of organizational memory loss and prevent the same mistakes that cause accidents and ill health from being repeated,” says Professor Billy Hare, deputy director of The BEAM Research Centre at Glasgow Caledonian University.
The university is seeking partners to develop the prototype digital tool for full-scale industry use, he adds.
The study worked with 40 designers (20 novice and 20 experienced) from two typical industry groups of architects and civil engineers. The designers were randomly assigned to multimedia user (experimental) and nonuser (control) groups, who were permitted to use the internet for help. Participants were asked to review a set of CAD drawings, identify hazards, and make decisions about designing for OSH. The experiment tested the multimedia digital tool against general internet searches and examined the designers’ ability to foresee OSH hazards in designs by measuring both the quantity of specific hazards identified and the quality of design outcomes.
Using the tool, the designers identified hazards a total of 599 times, with architects identifying over three times the number of hazards as those not using the tool. For civil engineers, the figure was five times as large. In both cases, the scope of hazards identified was double that of the group not using the multimedia tool, suggesting that it was an effective way of improving designers’ knowledge of hazards.
Mary Ogungbeje, research manager at IOSH, says, “Tools can make a real difference in upskilling professionals, irrespective of their level of experience. Architects and civil engineers can identify hazards and come up with better controls when developing and reviewing designs. Ultimately, this will reduce injuries and save lives. I hope that this research and the findings are welcomed by the design community, including establishments with an educational or training interest, so that the learnings can contribute to improved industry practice.”
Access the report at bit.ly/IOSHappstudy.