The term “safety in design” is increasingly being used in the workplace. So, what does this mean and what do you need to do?

Legislative Requirements

Most jurisdictions include legislative obligations for designers of buildings, plant or structures. For example, Vic OHS Act S.27 & 28, Australian Model WHS Act S.22 and NZ HSW Act S.39.

However, the obligations in the legislation are general in nature and therefore not that helpful for most people. Below is the typical wording.


Designers to ensure structures, plant and buildings are safe when used for the intended purpose including each phase e.g. transportation, construction, use and demolition.


Key Design Requirements

The key design considerations for safety in design for buildings and structures can be covered under the five subject areas outlined below.

1.     Design for Safe Construction

A lot of the risks associated with buildings arise during construction, yet traditionally safety-in-design principles have focused on the inherent safety of the completed structure.


Some of the common risks that arise during the construction phase, along with some suggested controls include:

  • Power lines over driveways or near construction equipment e.g. scaffolding or cranes. Consider bury, disconnect or re-route cables before construction, or ensure adequate warning signage and clearance from overhead lines.
  • Falling components or people when working at heights, so consider prefabricated off-site or assemble at ground level.
  • Worker falling off roofs so include compliant parapets in building designs.
  •  Workers falling off temporary access ladders so schedule installation of permanent stairs at the beginning of construction.

2.            Design for Safe Use

Designers can help their intended occupants and users by considering things like:

  • Traffic management plan e.g. separate entry and exits and loading areas.
  • Specify non-slip materials for floor surfaces exposed to weather.
  • Sufficient space to safely install, operate and maintain intended plant and machinery.
  • Provide adequate lighting.
  • Mechanical devices to minimise manual handling.
  • Specify plant with low noise emissions or isolate noisy equipment.
  • Design floor loads to accommodate likely future heavy machinery.

3.            Design for Safe Maintenance

Maintenance personnel have traditionally been expected to tolerate difficult access and cramped work space to complete maintenance tasks. This attitude is not acceptable under current workplace legislative requirements and all building designs need to consider:

  • Maintenance from floor level or from a safe structure / platform.
  • Permanent anchorage and hoisting points where maintenance is needed at height.
  • Avoid entry to confined spaces.
  • Specify materials that do not need re-coating or treatment. 

4.            Safe Modification


Owners and occupiers often find the need to modify buildings and structures to accommodate changing circumstances. Where this is required consider the following:

  • Refer to designer / documentation prior to any modifications for any risks or precautions.
  • Incorporate new design standards in any planned upgrades.
  • Consult professional engineers.
  • Follow management of change procedures.


5.            Safe Demolition

Every building or structure must eventually reach the end of its practical usefulness and need to be dis-assembled or fully demolished. The safety in design considerations include:

a)  Demolition firm to consult designer/documentation to safely dismantle the structure.

b)  Design to include leaving lifting lugs and eyelets on beams and structural components to facilitate disassembly.

c)  Risk assessment to identify all hazards and demolition firm to document correct safe method.


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