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Why build something in the air when it can be built safer on the ground? Why install equipment that might create a safety risk to maintenance workers during future repair or replacement? These are key considerations that cut to the core of Prevention Through Design (PtD).

Historically in the construction industry, safety has primarily focused on the real-time performance of the construction. Meanwhile, the safety of the end user who will operate the building or system after construction is often overlooked.

In addition, there are opportunities for broader safety measures and planning that can reduce risks for the performance of the construction. Prevention Through Design (PtD) is an approach that was developed decades ago, but has gained momentum in recent years. PtD, as defined by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), is “all efforts to anticipate and design out hazards to workers in facilities, work methods and operations, processes, equipment, tools, products, new technologies, and the organization of work. The focus of PtD is on workers who execute the designs or have to work with the products of the design.” Or, more simply put, “design for safety” or “safety by design.” For example, PtD is not just focused on ensuring code minimums for equipment access and maintenance, but instead thinking through how the facility, equipment and processes will be used, maintained, and repaired or replaced. Key aspects of PtD include:

  • Specific design considerations and planning for the safety of construction and maintenance workers.
  • Design decision making based in part on the element’s inherent safety risk to how it will be constructed and how it will be used/maintained by the end user.

PtD has become a fundamental approach to how JE Dunn delivers semiconductor projects due to the inherent risk of working within manufacturing and production facilities. End users are continuously exposed to complex systems that facilitate dangerous chemicals and processes. Therefore, considerations for the end user in these environments is of the utmost importance, which far exceeds traditional construction industry norms.

Unsurprisingly, (given design is in the name), PtD is most effective when implemented as design starts. The design-build delivery model naturally creates an ideal framework to implement PtD since the design process is integrated between the design and construction teams, as well as the client, from day one of the project. PtD can still work for non-design-build projects, but it needs to be implemented as early as possible in the design process. In addition, it is most effective when the client establishes that PtD is a project priority. This ensures that it gets the attention and follow through from the team while they’re juggling all other aspects of the project delivery.

PtD is an especially effective approach to address OSHA’s recommended hierarchy of controls for hazards. Per OSHA, the most effective control is “elimination” followed by “substitution”. Through the PtD process, we increase our ability to eliminate or substitute elements because we are thinking about safety early during design. For example, deciding to locate an air handling unit on the ground in lieu of a roof (for safer and easier maintenance access) is much more viable during design than it would be once construction has started or especially after construction is complete.  If PtD thinking is implemented too late, it could result in increased costs and/or delays.

On various design-build semiconductor and institutional projects, we have implemented a collaborative PtD approach by working alongside safety managers, project managers, maintenance workers, client stakeholders, construction trade partners, and designers. The approach has achieved great safety outcomes for the end user, including safer access roads and crosswalks, safer equipment placement, accommodations for minimizing impacts of inclement weather, and long-term maintenance efficiency. In many cases, the PtD approach has complimented our offsite manufacturing strategy. Building more elements offsite, or on the ground, reduces safety risk to the construction workers, which is fundamental to PtD. In our thought leadership article “Offsite Manufacturing (OSM)”  you will find examples of how the PtD approach lead to offsite manufacturing that reduced safety risk.

On a recent aviation project our team decided to build a structural steel canopy on the ground and then hoist the entire canopy, including mechanical and electrical connections, onto the steel columns in a single hoisting event (pictured above). This approach eliminated 90% of the elevated and overhead work that would have occurred through a traditional construction approach.

When we think of modularization, we often think of constructing something in sections or units. In the case of a recent semiconductor project, the modularization approach was applied in the opposite way— for demolition. An old utility link structure needed to be demolished to clear the path for a new clean link connecting two Fab facilities. Instead of demolishing the link piece by piece in the elevated location, our team developed a PtD approach to demolish modular sections. We disconnected a module from the link and hoisted it onto the ground. Once on the ground, the construction team systematically demolished the section from safer heights and access points (pictured above).

Given these successes, we believe PtD will continue to become more prevalent in the construction industry because maximizing safety is the most important thing we can do as builders. Through PtD, JE Dunn increases focus on delivering our daily mission of safety everywhere and all the time.