Make safety an integral component of the design

  • 15 November 2023
  • 3 minutes

Safety must be demonstrably ensured, at all times, and with a high degree of certainty. And this must take place before construction activities start, during construction and when objects are commissioned. However, safety awareness often only comes into play during execution. After all, this is the time when the risks become visible and tangible, but by then you are already faced with a fait accompli.

This is the reason why INNOCY's consultants recommend thinking about the impact a design choice can have on safety during the operation and maintenance phase as early as possible, and therefore, already during the planning study. INNOCY is often involved in infrastructure projects, not only during execution, but also during the preliminary phase, i.e. the design phase.

“Fortunately, we are noticing that safety is no longer seen as an afterthought”, says Midas Luijer, Advisor Integral Safety at INNOCY. "The awareness of including the safety aspect already during the design phase is growing. And that's a positive development because the impact you can make during the design phase is greater than if you only pay attention to it during execution or, even worse, when it’s already too late and you have to resolve all kinds of issues during the management and maintenance phase. This is why our division tries to join a design team at a very early stage, and we then do our best to get design teams to think about safety. The question they need to address is the impact of a design choice on safety in the implementation phase or during the management and operational phase. After all, safety is an important factor that needs to be taken into account in the structural and technical solutions that are part of the design".

Safety awareness

The traditional 'project triangle' currently still consists of three variables for steering and controlling projects: quality, money and time. "Actually, that triangle should become a quadrangle in order to include safety as an integral component, because safety is equally important," says Ferry Spruit, Industrial Automation Consultant at INNOCY. "My division carries out a lot of projects for ProRail, and they are very aware of safety aspects." Midas adds: "However, what you see in 'regular' road infrastructure projects is that the main contractor has sufficient safety awareness, but the biggest challenge is to include all subcontractors in the safety culture. They only perform one or more tasks on a temporary basis. The larger the number of links in the chain, the greater the challenge of executing a project safely and in a controlled manner."

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Safety and renovation

Safety should not only be an integral part of a design in new infrastructure projects, it’s also important to include safety in renovation assignments of assets, right from the start of a project. Ferry: "Take a bridge, for example. When a bridge is renovated, the entire project must comply with the Work Equipment and Machinery Directive/Machine Regulation. The same directive states that it must be possible to operate, inspect and maintain the bridge in a safe manner. This is why a risk assessment is drawn up, and based on the applicable standards, any measures are taken to make the entire process safer." This is a positive development, because in the 1970s and 1980s, the safety issue was not so prominent and there were fewer requirements. Midas: "In replacement and renovation projects it is therefore important to include the safety aspect right away in order to ensure that the object can still be used, inspected and maintained properly and safely sixty years from now."

Manageable risks

INNOCY's consultants also realise that every control measure or choice creates another potential risk. "That is the trade-off you make, and those risks must be an integral part of the documentation and ultimately they must be transferred to the asset owner. You can never create a 100% safe environment, but there is a lot to be gained by starting the conversation and raising awareness already in the preliminary phase," Midas summarises. "Constantly ask yourself the question: suppose things go wrong, what have we done together at this point to prevent this risk? Labour inspectors look back in the same manner at what preceded an incident and what measures were taken to manage or prevent the incident as best as possible. This is also why we regularly call on technical inspectors to work together in making the right considerations and design choices and do so with a fresh perspective."

INNOCY believes in the integral approach to safety in projects. "We look at how safety should be secured during each phase of a project, we consider all relevant safety themes integrally, and we look for common areas and risks due to concurrent events within those themes." INNOCY thinks and works with foresight, thus ensuring not only that safety issues of the future become visible, but that they are also managed in the present.

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Midas Luijer