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NIOSH advocates designing prevention into processes
Initiative draws on health care, employers, designers
Bringing occupational safety and health into the initial design of workplaces, equipment, and processes is the goal of a proposed national strategy to create "Prevention through Design" (PtD).
While John Howard, MD, MPH, JD, LLM, director of the Washington, DC-based National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), announced the PtD initiative in late 2006, he recently described the idea behind "designing prevention." "PtD means investing that ounce of prevention by incorporating occupational health and safety up front in designing the features and contents of a workplace," Howard said in prepared remarks announcing an upcoming roundtable on the initiative. (See resource at end of article) "It means saving a pound of cure through smart planning in the very early design phase to prevent or minimize work-related hazards associated with the construction, manufacture, use, maintenance, and disposal of facilities, material, and equipment."
NIOSH has joined with the American Society of Safety Engineers, the Center to Protect Workers' Rights, the National Safety Council, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and human resources organizations to form the PtD National Initiative. The goal is to bring together engineers, architects, and other designers with employers, the worker community, government agencies, occupational safety and health professionals, insurers, and others to develop a national strategy and to identify achievable endpoints.
Occupational health and safety professionals have long known that it's better, easier, and cheaper to make a process or worksite safer at the start than it is to fix it after safety issues crop up. Unfortunately, safety issues sometimes aren't known until a process is online or a site is up and running, and what's learned from those issues is not incorporated into design until the next generation of equipment. The premise of the PtD initiative is that investing in research to evaluate the human-factor components will pay off in safer and improved designs that are more compatible with human capacities, according to NIOSH.
The PtD initiative is an attempt to apply what we know about safety and health at the earliest design stage, to make an informed effort, and to seek expert input at the design stage before it is put into use, Howard explained. "Little concentrated emphasis has been focused on this part of the hierarchy of prevention at the national level," he says. "There's a growing knowledge base, a number of experts, a range of tools, and a market-driven demand for mainstreaming prevention-through-design into normal practice for many, if not all, industry sectors."
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) is hosting a PtD workshop July 9-11, 2007, at its headquarters in Washington, DC, bringing together more than 300 leaders from all stakeholders in the initiative. For information on the workshop, go to the NIOSH web site, www.cdc.gov/NIOSH. Click on "Conferences," then scroll down to July 9. Contact Richard Rinehart at NIOSH for more information about the conference and PtD; E-mail: RRinehart@cdc.gov.