Injuries and Illness

Accident Prevention Through Design

Save money and prevent workplace injuries right from the drawing board—that’s the principle behind “Prevention Through Design.”

When OSHA first implemented the lockout/tagout standard in 1989, employers protested that compliance would be difficult and require extensive retrofitting because many pieces of industrial equipment had hazardous energy sources that were not “capable of being locked out.”

Now, of course, industrial machinery is designed so energy sources are readily identifiable and easy to lock out.

This is a simple example of the principles of “prevention through design” (PtD)—controlling workplace hazards by addressing them during the design phase, before a piece of equipment is assembled or an entire facility is built.

How It Works

When equipment, facilities, and processes are designed in ways that maximize safety, they minimize the possibility of:

Human error. For example, in building design, continuous stairwells can prove confusing to people trying to escape from the building quickly. Signage notwithstanding, people may think only of getting to the bottom of the stairs quickly and continue on past the ground level into basement levels of the building, where they can become trapped. To prevent this, buildings are often designed so all stairwells terminate on the ground floor, and stairway access to basement levels is completely separate from stairway access to upper levels. Similar principles can be applied to designing controls for industrial equipment.


One of the items on OSHA’s regulatory agenda for 2013 and beyond is the development of a federal Injury and Illness Prevention Program (I2P2) standard. BLR’s upcoming live webinar will help you prepare and get a leg up on complying with the likely I2Ps framework. Learn More


Deliberate sabotage. Workers often sabotage protective devices when they feel that these devices impair their ability to do their jobs. They remove guards and disable safety interlocks if these things are “getting in their way.” To prevent this kind of tampering, it is important to ensure that safety measures are seamlessly integrated into equipment. This makes them less likely to “get in the way” of workers as well as more difficult to bypass than after-market guards and interlocks.

The Business Case for Prevention Through Design

PtD is typically a health and safety initiative. The stated purpose is to eliminate occupational hazards and control risks to workers “at the source,” or as early as possible in the life cycle of items or workplaces. Considered in isolation for their impact on worker health and safety, these efforts are cost-effective. But employers that have implemented PtD principles have seen significant improvements in other business metrics, too.

For example, noise is a significant health and safety issue in mines. One underground coal mine, attempting to reduce mine workers’ noise exposures, came up with the innovative solution of coating the conveyor chain on its continuous mining machines with heavy-duty urethane. Not only did the redesigned chain generate significantly less noise; it also increased the chain life by a factor of three, which more than offset the 20 percent increase in the cost of the chain.

Another area where PtD intersects with business goals is that of “green” business practices. Both PtD and green business efforts, for example, emphasize reducing hazardous chemical use. The substitution of less hazardous chemicals in industrial processes improves worker health and safety and a business’s green profile.


Join us for an in-depth webinar on November 20. Our presenter, a seasoned safety expert who has been following I2P2 at the state and federal level for many years, will help participants understand the I2P2 process and use it to improve their existing safety program. Click here for details.


PtD principles produce many other cost-effective results, including:

Why It Matters

  • Improved quality. Making the work easier to do reduces the possibility of mistakes, enhancing product quality.
  • Improved productivity. A work environment designed for worker health and safety often proves to be an easier place to get things done, enabling employees to accomplish more in the same amount of time.
  • Reducing waste. Disposing of waste can be a significant cost for businesses. PtD principles streamline manufacturing processes, often reducing waste generation.

Learn More

NIOSH has prepared nine instructional modules on preventive engineering. They are designed for use in college engineering courses, but employers could also use them to implement prevention through design principles.

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