Companies See Value in Broadening Sustainability Efforts - Pt 3

Worker Health

Rethinking Design for Safety and Wellness 

Conventional wisdom asserts the majority of workplace accidents ensue from worker missteps. This conclusion, first advanced by industrial safety pioneer Herbert William Heinrich, is only now being upended by a relatively new concept. 

Where previous theory focused on behavior, PtD shifts attention to integrating design considerations “at the source” to reduce environmental impact, workplace injury, and illness.⁷ This proactive focus minimizes risks that accompany the lifecycle of events spanning facilities, materials, and equipment. 

The concept rests on a hierarchy of controls, with less dangerous elements substituted for more hazardous materials and approaches. Various administrative and engineering controls further solidify risk management.

The PtD concept has reduced construction times, enhanced project quality, and lowered costs.⁸ One study found the benefits of accident prevention outweighed the costs 3-to-1 in the construction industry.⁹ PtD has carried into the health-care sector. Placing elderly patients at the center of design considerations has alleviated the burden on providers in a field with high workplace injury rates.10 Additional industries are benefiting. 

“Companies that produce oil and gas, chemicals, computer chips, electricity, minerals—this sector involves major capital facilities with high levels of hazards,” Toole said. “Large, successful companies have used Prevention through Design to reduce injuries during the initial construction and over the lifecycle of operations and maintenance.” In the electrical field alone, hazards are reduced through design features such as permanently mounted voltage indicators, data access ports, and voltage portals.11

Beyond safety, design features are now advancing wellness. Elements such as circadian lighting, collaborative spaces, and continuous monitoring of carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds in office air boost employee recruitment and retention.  One London-based firm with improved air quality saw a 27 percent reduction in staff turnover.12

By designing for health outcomes, whether through active design interventions such as prominent staircases to promote physical activity, or passive design interventions, such as increased access to daylight, businesses can increase the potential positive health impacts on their workforce,” said Angela Loder, a researcher in occupant health, buildings, and sustainability.

“As implementing health through design, policy, and operations become more commonplace, we expect this to lower costs and increase employee expectations of their workplace.”

Stay tuned for Pt 4 next week, or Click here to download the full article

7 Donna S. Heidel, “Prevention through Design Standard,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sept. 22, 2011,

⁸ Lisa Singh, “Critical Wrinkles of the New European Privacy Law,” Bloomberg Law, June 2018,

⁹ Elias Ikpe, Felix Hammon, and David Oloke, “Cost-Benefit Analysis for Accident Prevention in Construction Projects,” Journal of Construction Engineering and Management,

August 2012,

10 E. Stewart, D. Heidel, and M. Quinn, “Prevention through Design in the Health-Care Sector,” Environmental Health Risk, August 2009

11 Rachel Bugaris, “What Does Prevention Through Design Really Mean?”, Oct. 3, 2018,

12 Bloomberg interview with Angela Loder, vice president, research, International WELL Building Institute, Oct. 23, 2018