NIOSH Showcases Prevention Through Design Initiative in Safety Journal

A new resource by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Safety Council on the national "Prevention through Design" (PtD) initiative was released on May 1 as a special edition of the Journal of Safety Research, April 2008. The journal contains the proceedings from a July 9-11, 2007, PtD workshop held in Washington, D.C. by NIOSH, NSC, and other co-sponsors, including break-out session reports by industry sector and functional area, as well as technical papers authored by experts in the field.

PtD is based on evidence that occupational injuries, illness, and fatalities are most effectively prevented by "designing out" hazards and hazardous exposures from the workplace. Recent studies in Australia estimate that design is a significant contributor in 37 percent of work-related fatalities.

In 2006, NIOSH said 5,840 workers in the United States died from injuries sustained at work; an estimated 49,000 annual deaths have been attributed to work-related diseases. In 2006, an estimated 4.1 million private-sector workers had a nonfatal work-related injury or illness; approximately half of these workers required a job transfer, work restrictions, or time away from their jobs. An estimated 3.4 million workers were treated in emergency departments in 2004 because of occupational injuries, and approximately 80,000 were hospitalized. In 2005, workers' compensation costs for employers totaled an estimated $89 billion.

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. NIOSH said; however, many U.S. companies support PtD concepts because they have demonstrated to themselves the business value of PtD and have thus developed successful PtD management practices. Reported success stories highlighted in the proceedings include these:

  • Kaiser Permanente is controlling the risk of back injuries to health care workers by installing ceiling-mounted lifts in patient rooms;
  • Washington Group International demonstrates a positive return on investment by designing for safety during construction and operation of a new radioactive waste processing facility;
  • McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry eliminates 97 percent of the chemicals used in the manufacture of a fabric. As a result, the trimmings are safely mulched and composted by local garden clubs;
  • Alcan (now Rio Tinto Alcan) requires that the hierarchy of controls (elimination, substitution, isolation, engineering controls, administrative controls, PPE) is applied to health and safety risks. As a result, they have reduced the frequency of mobile equipment-related events by 70 percent;
  • Sikorsky Aircraft includes previously optional safety equipment on all Sikorsky commercial aircraft since they want their helicopters to be the safest to fly.

Abstracts for the proceedings and other information about the special edition of the journal are available at www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00224375. Additional information about PtD can be found on the NIOSH Web site at www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/PTD/.

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