Sample Essay on Prevention through Design (PtD)


            Work-related injuries are not only common, but also real, and devastating. According to recent studies conducted in various workplaces in the United States, every year, some 55,000 people succumb to work-related diseases and injuries. At the same time, 3.8 million people are injured in the workplace, while another 294,000 become sick (Schulte et al., 2008). The yearly indirect and direct costs of work-related diseases and injuries are estimated to be between $ 128 billion and $ 155 billion (Schulte et al., 2008).

Recently, studies conducted in various workplaces in the United States showed that design contributes towards a massive 37% of fatalities in the workplace. For this reason, successful execution of prevention strategies to these work-related fatalities through the adoption of the right design concepts could have a significant effect on worker safety and health (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2013). Prevention through Design (PtD) is involved in undertaking research and making recommendations aimed at preventing worker illness and injury. This is a national initiative of NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health).

PtD integrates the various efforts aimed at designing out and predicting hazards that face workers. The main focus of PtD is in persons charged with the responsibility of implementing the designs. It also targets individuals who often deal with the products of the design. The development of this national initiative is intended to aid in the designing out hazards (Ertas, 2011). This is widely regarded as the most effective and reliable form of prevention as it reduces dependence on lower hierarchy control measures. Accordingly, this paper shall endeavor to examine the concept of PtD, its history, goals, the actual process, reasons for its creation, and hierarchy of control.

Define Prevention through Design

Prevention through Design (PtD) is a term used in reference to the concept aimed at reducing occupational hazards. It does this by “designing out” such occupational hazards. PtD minimizes workplace safety risks that normally face workers who depend on personal protective equipment (Ertas, 2011). The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has defined PtD as, “addressing occupational safety and health needs in the design process to prevent or minimize the work-related hazards and risks associated with the construction, manufacture, use, maintenance, and disposal of facilities, materials, and equipment” (2013, n.p.). Most business leaders have now acknowledged PtD as a cost-effective strategy that helps to improve occupational health and safety and as such, have increasingly sought to support the PtD process by ensuring that the necessary management practices have been developed to aid in its implementation.

A History of PtD

Efforts to incorporate engineering principles into the design process of workers’ safety can be traced as far back as the 1800s. At the time, trends entailed the widespread execution of controls for elevators, guards for machinery, as well as boiler safety practices. Thereafter, improved design for enclosures, ventilation lockout/tagout controls, system monitors, and hearing protectors followed (Manuele, 2008). In recent times, we have witnessed the development of ergonomically engineered tools, and chemical process safety (Schulte, 2008). This acted as a watershed for increased research into the area of workplace design deficiencies. In the early 1990s, a number of professionals in the safety field acknowledged, by conducting investigative reports on occupational illnesses and injuries, which organizations were not sufficiently dealing with design causal factors. For instance, one such study carried out showed that there  were effects of work method and workplace design insufficiencies in more than 35% of such investigative reports that were evaluated. At the same time, it was noted that the corrective measures proposed by the researchers were not aligned to the design effects (Manuele, 2008).

At the same time, the issue of safety design appeared to have been insufficiently dealt with within the realm of the popular safety literature. Also, the health and safety management systems guide rarely integrated procedures in safety through design. As a result, in 1995, the Institute for Safety through Design was established (Heidel & Schulte, 2008). Members of the Advisory Committee for this institute were drawn from various areas, including academia, the industry, organized labor, as well as other interested individuals.

The PtD Process

The PtD process is geared towards controlling and preventing occupational illnesses, fatalities, and injuries, or to minimize workplace safety risks, as well as to minimize the dependence of workers on personal protective equipment (Manuelle, 2008). Simply put, the PtD process combines risk assessment and hazard analysis techniques in the early stages of design and engineering and thereafter, assumes the actions needed to prevent risk of damage or injury. The PtD process begins with a definition of the work. This is important in order to indentify the types of hazards and risks associated with that kind of work. It is important to fully integrate PtD in the early design process of a given project by undertaking a hazard assessment of the options to take into account, and worker health and safety requirements if at all the design is to be established (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2013). At the conceptual stage, the main aim of PtD is to assess alternative design concepts, plan on how workers health and safety is to be ensured against hazards.  Still at the preliminary design stage, PtD efforts are intended to be incremental, as opposed to a total re-assessment of the conceptual design. The hazard assessment graduates to a system level hazard assessment from a facility level assessment (Ertas, 2008). During the developmental phase of hazard analysis there is need to revisit the safety considerations, selection of controls, and their categorization. This is important because doing so enables us to ascertain that they are still valid (The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 2013). At the same time, it is important to ensure that the final hazard controls have been developed in the detailed design phase.

Goals of PtD

PtD was created in order to help reduce or prevent occupational illnesses, fatalities, and injuries by integrating prevention considerations in the various designs that affect workers (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). In order to achieve this mission, the PtD ensures that it controls risks and eliminate hazards at their point of origin to acceptable level. Another strategy is to include the redesign, retrofill and design of existing and novel work structures, premises, facilities, tools, machinery, equipment, work processes, substances, as well as organization of work (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). Finally, PtD endeavors to improve work environment by including prevention strategies in the various designs that affect not just workers, but also other individuals on the premises.

Reasons why it was created

The objective of PtD is to minimize the risk of occupational illness and injury by combining decisions that impact on health and safety in the various phases of the design process. In a bid to ensure the fulfillment of this goal, the NIOSH has emphasized on assessing “ways to create a demand for graduates of business, architecture and engineering schools to have basic knowledge in occupational health and safety principles and concepts” (Manuelle, 2008). While the main focus of the PtD imitative seems to be on design, at the same time, it is important however to acknowledge the significance of other factors as well, including management, behavior, personal protective equipment, and leadership. There is a high likelihood of a direct interaction between these factors and the designs dealing with occupational health and safety (Ertas, 2011).

Hierarchy of Control

Below is a hierarchy control of the Prevention through Design (PtD) concept as developed for use in the workplace:

  • Prevention: This step entails the prevention of hazards and risks from occurring in the first place, through the design process in which a hierarchy of controls has been adopted (Schulte & Heidel, 2009).
  • Elimination: This involves ensuring that the hazard has been eliminated at either the design or the re-design phase (Schulte & Heidel, 2009).
  • Substitution: In the case of less hazardous processes, materials, equipments, or operations need to be substituted, this should be done (Schulte & Heidel, 2009).
  • Engineering controls: Engineering controls need to be “designed in” in an attempt to reduce the risk (Schulte & Heidel, 2009).
  • Warnings: there is need to initial manual and automatic warning of systems, through labels and signs (Schulte & Heidel, 2009).
  • Administrative controls: This can be achieved through the development of well-designed work methods, training, and organization (Schulte & Heidel, 2009).


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