One of the best ways to prevent and control occupational injuries, illnesses, and fatalities is to “design out” or minimize hazards and risks early in the design process. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is leading a National initiative called Prevention through Design (PtD) to promote this concept and highlight its importance in all business decisions. PtD addresses occupational safety and health needs by eliminating hazards and controlling risks to workers throughout the life cycle of work premises, tools, equipment, machinery, substances, and work methods, including their construction, manufacture, use, maintenance and ultimate disposal or re-use.
The reasons for this initiative are compelling. Each year in the U.S., 55,000 people die from work-related injuries and diseases, 294,000 are made sick, and 3.8 million are injured. The annual direct and indirect costs have been estimated to range from $128 billion to $155 billion. Recent studies in Australia indicate that design is a significant contributor in 37% of work-related fatalities; therefore, the successful implementation of prevention through design concepts can have substantial impacts on worker health and safety.
Although there is a long history of designing for safety for the general public, there has been less emphasis on designing for safety for workers. However, many U.S. companies support PtD concepts because they have witnessed first hand the business value of PtD and have developed successful PtD management practices. Several of these companies shared their PtD successes with 225 participants from diverse industry sectors and disciplines at the first Prevention through Design Workshop, held in Washington DC July 9–11, 2007. The proceedings from the Prevention through Design Workshop as well as six peer-reviewed papers demonstrating PtD principles have been included in a special Prevention through Design issue of the Journal of Safety Research.
The meeting participants provided feedback to NIOSH on the goals that should be included in the strategic plan for the Prevention through Design National initiative. Overwhelmingly, workshop participants from all of the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) industry sectors requested that NIOSH include goals that will assist them in demonstrating the business case for prevention through design. Specifically, the participants recommended that NIOSH:
- Research the costs associated with implementing Prevention through Design as well as the long-term return on investment, or ROI;
- Develop and distribute methods and tools that can be used by engineers, designers, finance professionals and H&S professionals to calculate return on investment for PtD options. Educate these professionals on the practical use of these tools;
- Understand industry motivations and challenges and develop compelling business cases for PtD that address their concerns;
- Educate business and finance leaders in the value of PtD to their organizations, not only in terms of human lives, injuries and illnesses but also in terms of improving business processes, productivity and creating workplaces of choice.
Your Feedback Is Important to Us
NIOSH understands that recognizing and defining the business case for PtD will strengthen this national strategy. As we move forward with the PtD initiative we would like to hear more from you, through this blog, about your success in building a business case for Prevention through Design as well as the challenges you have encountered. We would appreciate learning more about the outcomes you have experienced, in terms of reduction in the incidence of serious injuries, illnesses and/or exposures. Additionally, we would like to hear about any improvements in other business metrics, such as quality or productivity, that are the result of including prevention through design elements into the construction, manufacture, use, maintenance, and disposal of materials, equipment, and facilities.
Thank you in advance for your assistance in strengthening the PtD initiative.
—Donna S. Heidel, CIH, and Paul Schulte, Ph.D.
Ms. Heidel, a NIOSH Research Industrial Hygienist, is the Coordinator of the PtD National initiative
Dr. Schulte, Director of NIOSH’s Education and Information Division, is leading the NIOSH PtD National initiative.