Safety by Design

May 1, 1999
Mother was right; an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Safety and health begins, and belongs, in design. Hazards identified during the design of a product or process can be eliminated or controlled through judicious design decisions and engineering. Safety by design reduces exposure to product liability, lawsuits, and product recall campaigns. Anticipating, identifying and controlling hazards in the design phase is easier, cheaper and more effective than redesigning a product or process placed in production.

The traditional view of safety and health professionals is that engineers don"t want to include safety considerations in design. Not so, according to a study by Bruce Main and Allen C. Ward, published in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers" journal, Mechanical Engineering (August 1992). Today"s engineers realize the importance of safety in design and its impact on minimizing future liability. Design engineers also realize that safe design is an important factor for success in the global market.

Main and Ward found that failure to include safety in design is not caused by a lack of motivation, but by a lack of safety training and safety design tools to assist engineers in making sound design decisions. "Safety experts have methodologies to address safety issues in a comprehensive manner, but do not normally develop the actual design; and design engineers, responsible for developing designs, lack the tools and safety theory developed in the safety profession," they found.

Main and Ward identify three methods to ensure better design safety which should be familiar to most safety and health professionals: including safety professionals in the design development (concurrent engineering), discrete safety design reviews, and educating designers in safety. They noted: "Although design safety should not be left solely to one individual, design safety would improve if design engineers knew more about hazard identification, elimination, and control."


Designsafe (design safety engineering, inc., P.O. Box 7536, Ann Arbor, MI 48107; telephone (313)483-2033 or (888)628-8788) is a software tool that helps design engineers and safety professionals minimize risk through design. Designsafe does this by facilitating an organized hazard analysis, qualitative risk assessment, and identification of control options.

The hazard analysis begins with the identification of key processes and sub-processes associated with the design. Next, the designer identifies the users of each sub-process, the tasks performed by the user, the hazards associated with each task and associated failure modes. Designsafe facilitates this identification of users, tasks and hazards through standardized lists. The lists are quite comprehensive, providing excellent guidance to the designer. The lists may be modified to meet individual needs.

Severity and probability (or exposure frequency) factors are assigned to each hazard and combined into an overall Risk rating. The result is a comprehensive database of hazards associated with the process or product.

Next, designsafe helps the designer identify appropriate "Remedy Actions"to reduce risk by eliminating and controlling hazards, using the accepted hazard control hierarchy of elimination or substitution, engineering controls, warnings, training and procedures or personal protective equipment. In designsafe, "Eliminate by design" is the preferred method of control, followed by "Guard against hazard," "Warn of hazard," "Train user" and "Personal protective equipment (PPE)." The guarding, warning, training and PPE options prompt the designer to select one or more standard design options. Guarding options, for example, include fixed enclosures, adjustable enclosures, interlocked barriers, and presence-sensing devices. Personal protective equipment includes eye, face, foot, fall, and respiratory protection.

Finally, designsafe helps designers track progress towards implementing risk reduction strategies. The program provides a status field to help the designer track progress in controlling the hazards by marking remedy actions as complete, in process or "to be done." A comprehensive set of reports is provided for reporting hazards by sub-process, hazard, risk level and user.

Designsafe is an impressive product that can be used not only proactively during design, but also for conducting hazard analyses of current operations and products. Designsafe"s customers cut across a broad range of users, including manufacturers of integrated circuits, high-tech fabric, and automotive parts, as well as design and safety consultants and professionals. "Some customers require that new designs must include a designsafe analysis prior to approval, while others are implementing the software more gradually," Main stated.

Universities also use the software. Main mentioned that The Institute for Safety Through Design ( funded a pilot program to place designsafe in engineering schools for students to use in senior design classes. "We"re seeing very positive and rewarding results. Students are identifying hazards they would otherwise miss." One of the more interesting uses has been at Vanderbilt University, where the software is used in bioengineering projects.

Designsafe is an exciting product with great potential, but there is room for improvement. The program"s standard list of hazards and control options should be refined to better address occupational and environmental health issues. This could be corrected by establishing a mechanism for users to share customized hazard sets and including university safety and industrial hygiene programs in the Institute for Safety Through Design pilot program.

Designsafe doesn"t allow the users to interactively sort the database by process, user, hazard, and risk. This can only be done by generating a report.

If you are involved in design safety, visit the designsafe website and download the demo version. At $995 ($846 for National Safety Council members), designsafe is not cheap, but it should quickly pay for itself through more efficient, better designs. Price reductions are available for quantity purchases, and a networked version is also available.

The Web on Speed

Cable Internet service finally arrived in my area, and I decided to take the plunge. Cable Internet service involves using cable television lines for Internet access. A cable modem links the computer to the television cable that is part of a computer network provided by the cable company.

The cable system supports maximum transfer rates of 1.5 million bits per second - that"s a lot of bits! However, I wasn"t sure what to expect for my individual cable connection, since that 1.5 Mbps bandwidth is shared with other users on the network. The more users transferring data over my network node, the less bandwidth is available per individual user.

I'm happy to report that my cable Internet service is fantastic, and has changed the way I use the Internet. Streaming video and audio actually works. I can watch television news with RealPlayer ( while surfing the web.

Downloads that took hours over a telephone modem connection now take minutes. I no longer feel the need to archive large downloads, and can depend on the Internet as a file library.

The family shares the Internet cable connection on our second computer over a home network using Sygate gateway software (

Since my computer is always connected to the Internet, I'm more concerned about security. While Sygate provides limited firewall protection, I"ve also installed special security software (eSafe, and turned off file sharing on my Internet gateway.

I highly recommend cable access if it is available in your area. I'm still concerned about the shared bandwidth, and expect performance to degrade as more people join me on the cable, but, until then, I'm enjoying the improved service. While cable access is more expensive than my previous dialup access account, it eliminated the need for a second phone line, generating a net savings of $6 per month.

Contributing Editor Michael Blotzer, MS, CIH, CSP, author of Internet User's Guide for Safety and Health Professionals, is an occupational hygiene and safety professional, writer and computer enthusiast who brakes for animals on the information superhighway. Mike can be reached by mail addressed to Occupational Hazards, by fax at 216-899-1581, or by electronic mail at [email protected]. Visit Mike"s World Wide Web page at http:// to view his "Neat Picks for the Month."

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