Safe Design

Safe Design in Australia: Overview, Statistics, and Principles

This post provides an overview of Safe Design in Australia: Overview, Statistics, and Principles.


Learn about safe design in Australia, integrating hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process to minimize injury risks.

Safe design is about integrating hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process, to eliminate or minimize risks of injury throughout the life of a product. This applies to buildings, structures, equipment, and vehicles.

Statistics and Research

Discover key statistics on work-related fatalities caused by unsafe design and design-related factors in Australia.

  • Of 639 work-related fatalities from 2006­­ to 2011, one-third (188) were caused by unsafe design or design-related factors that contributed to the fatality.
  • Of all fatalities where safe design was identified as an issue, one-fifth (21%) was caused by inadequate protective guarding for workers.
  • 188 work-related fatalities from 2006-2011 were caused by unsafe design.
  • 21% of fatalities where safe design was identified as an issue were caused by inadequate guarding.
  • 73% of all design-related fatalities were from agriculture, forestry, and fishing, construction, and manufacturing industries.

A Safe Design Approach

Understand the importance of safe design in various industries and explore the considerations involved in the design process.

Safe design begins at the concept development phase of a structure when you’re making decisions about:

  • the design and its intended purpose
  • materials to be used
  • possible methods of construction, maintenance, operation, demolition or dismantling, and disposal
  • what legislation, codes of practice, and standards need to be considered and complied with.

Consider how safety can best be achieved in each of the lifecycle phases, for example:

  • Designing a machine with protective guarding that will allow it to be operated safely, while also ensuring it can be installed, maintained, and disposed of safely.
  • Designing a building with a lift for occupants, where the design also includes sufficient space and safe access to the lift well or machine room for maintenance work.

Five Principles of Safe Design

Explore the five principles of safe design, enabling health and safety promotion throughout the product lifecycle.

  • Principle 1: Persons with control—those who make decisions affecting the design of products, facilities or processes are able to promote health and safety at the source.
  • Principle 2: Product lifecycle—safe design applies to every stage in the lifecycle from conception through to disposal. It involves eliminating hazards or minimizing risks as early in the lifecycle as possible.
  • Principle 3: Systematic risk management—apply hazard identification, risk assessment, and risk control processes to achieve a safe design.
  • Principle 4: Safe design knowledge and capability—should be either demonstrated or acquired by those who control design.
  • Principle 5: Information transfer—effective communication and documentation of design and risk control information amongst everyone involved in the phases of the lifecycle is essential for the safe design approach.

These principles have been derived from Towards a Regulatory Regime for Safe Design [note that this is a 230-page document and somewhat outdated].  For more [useful] detail see Guidance on the principles of safe design for work.

Figure 1, Model of Safe Design Process
Figure 1, Model of Safe Design Process

Ergonomics and Good Work Design

Learn how safe design incorporates ergonomics principles and promotes good work design for a healthy and safe work environment. Safe design incorporates ergonomics principles as well as good work design.

  • Ensure workplace hazards and risks are eliminated or minimized so all workers remain healthy and safe at work.
  • It can involve the design of work, workstations, operational procedures, computer systems, or manufacturing processes.

Responsibility for Safe Design

Discover the parties responsible for ensuring safe design in different stages of the lifecycle and the importance of collaboration.

When it comes to achieving safe design, responsibility rests with those groups or individuals who control or manage design functions. This includes:

  • Architects, industrial designers, or draftspersons who carry out the design on behalf of a client.
  • Individuals who make design decisions during any of the lifecycle phases such as engineers, manufacturers, suppliers, installers, builders, developers, project managers, and WHS professionals.
  • Anyone who alters a design.
  • Building service designers or others designing fixed plant such as ventilation and electrical systems.
  • Buyers who specify the characteristics of products and materials such as masonry blocks and by default decide the weights bricklayers must handle.

Safe design is achieved more effectively when all the parties who control and influence the design outcome collaborate on incorporating safety measures into the design.

For more information on who is responsible for safe design see Guidance on the principles of safe design for work, the Principles of Good Work Design Handbook, and the model Code of Practice: Safe Design of Structures and WHS Regulations.

Design Considerations for Plant

Explore the essential considerations when designing plant equipment to ensure safety throughout its lifecycle. Examples of things we should consider when designing plant include:

  • All the phases in the lifecycle of an item of plant from manufacture through use, to dismantling and disposal.
  • Design for safe erection and installation.
  • Design to facilitate safe use by considering, for example, the physical characteristics of users, the maximum number of tasks an operator can be expected to perform at any one time, and the layout of the workstation or environment in which the plant may be used.
  • Consider intended use and reasonably foreseeable misuse.
  • Consider the difficulties workers may face when maintaining or repairing the plant.
  • Consider types of failure or malfunction and design the plant to fail in a safe manner.

Product Lifecycle

Understand the significance of considering the product lifecycle in safe design and how it contributes to sustainability.

The lifecycle of a product is a key concept of sustainable and safe design. It provides a framework for eliminating the hazards at the design stage and/or controlling the risk as the product is:

  • constructed or manufactured
  • imported, supplied, or installed
  • commissioned, used, or operated
  • maintained, repaired, cleaned, and/or modified
  • de-commissioned, demolished, and/or dismantled
  • disposed of or recycled.

Create a safer product by eliminating or controlling the hazards and risks that could impact on downstream users in the lifecycle. Do this during design, manufacture, or construction. In these early phases, there is greater scope to design out hazards and/or incorporate risk control measures that are compatible with the original design concept and functional requirements of the product.

  • Designers must have a good understanding of the lifecycle of the item they are designing, including the needs of users and the environment in which that item may be used.
  • New risks may emerge as products are modified or the environments in which they are used change.

Safety can be further improved if each person who has control over actions taken in any of the lifecycle phases. Take steps to ensure health and safety is proactively addressed, by reviewing the design and checking it meets safety standards in each of the lifecycle phases.

Subsequent stages of the product’s lifecycle should not go ahead until the preceding phase design reviews have been considered and approved by those with control.

Figure 2: Lifecycle of Designed Products 

Figure 2, Safe Design Lifecycle.

Benefits of Safe Design

Discover the benefits of implementing safe design practices, including injury prevention, cost reduction, and compliance with legislation.

It is estimated that inherently safe plant and equipment would save between 5–10% of their cost through reductions in inventories of hazardous materials, reduced need for protective equipment, and the reduced costs of testing and maintaining the equipment.

  • The direct costs associated with unsafe design can be significant, for example retrofitting, workers’ compensation and insurance levies, environmental clean-up, and negligence claims.
  • Since these costs impact more on parties downstream in the lifecycle who buy and use the product more, the incentive for these parties to influence and benefit from safe design is also greater.

A safe design approach results in many benefits including:

  • prevent injury and disease
  • improve the useability of products, systems, and facilities
  • improve productivity
  • reduce costs
  • better predict and manage production and operational costs over the lifecycle of a product
  • comply with legislation
  • innovate, in that safe design demands new thinking.

Learn about the legal duties imposed on different parties involved in the design process to ensure health and safety compliance.

Australian WHS laws impose duties on a range of parties to ensure health and safety in relation to particular products such as:

  • designers of plant, buildings, and structures
  • building owners and persons with control of workplaces
  • manufacturers, importers, and suppliers of plant and substances
  • persons who install, erect or modify plant.

These obligations may vary depending on the relevant state, territory, or Commonwealth WHS legislation.

Those who make decisions that influence design such as clients, chief financial officers, developers, builders, directors, and managers will also have duties under WHS laws if they are employers, self-employed or if they manage or control workplaces.

  • For example, a client who has a building or structure designed and built for leasing becomes the owner of the building and may therefore have a duty as a person who manages or controls a workplace.

There are other provisions governing the design of buildings and structures in state and territory building laws. The BCA is the principal instrument for regulating architects, engineers, and others involved in the design of buildings and structures.

  • Although the BCA provides minimum standards to ensure the health and safety of building occupants (such as structural adequacy, fire safety, amenities, and ventilation), it does not cover the breadth of WHS matters that may arise during the construction phase or in the use of buildings and structures as workplaces.

In addition, there are technical design standards and guidelines produced by government agencies, Standards Australia, and relevant professional bodies

Healthy and Safe by Design

Explore how the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy emphasizes the elimination and minimization of hazards through effective design.

This is one of the Seven action areas in the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-2022.

Hazards are Eliminated or Minimised by Design

The most effective and durable means of creating a healthy and safe working environment is to eliminate hazards and risks during the design of new plant, structures, substances, and technology and of jobs, processes, and systems. This design process needs to take into account hazards and risks that may be present at all stages of the lifecycle of structures, plant, products, and substances.

Good design can eliminate or minimize the major physical, biomechanical, and psychosocial hazards and risks associated with work. Effective design of the overall system of work will take into account, for example, management practices, work processes, schedules, tasks, and workstation design.

Sustainable return to work or remaining at work while recovering from injury or illness is facilitated by good job design and management. Managers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the design of the work and work processes to accommodate individuals’ differing capabilities.

Workers’ general health and well-being are strongly influenced by their health and safety at work. Well-designed work can improve worker health. Activities under the Australian Strategy build appropriate linkages with healthy worker programs to support improved general worker well-being as well as health and safety.

National activities support the following outcomes:

  • Structures, plant, and substances are designed to eliminate or minimize hazards and risks before they are introduced into the workplace.
  • Work, work processes, and systems of work are designed and managed to eliminate or minimize hazards and risks.

END: Safe Design in Australia

The original webpage is © Commonwealth of Austr​alia, 2020; it is covered by a Creative Commons licence (CCBY 4.0) – for full details see here.

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