The Role of Occupational Health in Prevention through Design

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Prevention through Design1 (PtD) stemmed from earlier safety in design2 initiatives that were driven by the need to design for safety of the general public, particularly for the prevention of fatalities and serious injuries. The PtD idea has since been significantly broadened to include complex problems like prevention of occupational illness, promotion of general worker wellbeing, pollution reduction, alleviation of global energy and water shortages to name a few. The complexity of these challenges, coupled with a societal inability3 at the individual-discipline, national and global levels to find suitable solutions, has highlighted gaps in collaborative efforts to date.

Increased global connectivity has allowed larger numbers of people to have more complex interactions around solving these emerging challenges. This impetus has resulted in PtD becoming part of the new collaboration of shared knowledge and experiences between researchers from diverse disciplines and cultures to solve these common problems. It has spearheaded the development and use of integrated conceptual frameworks, tools and methodologies to create new paradigms for problem solving. Collectively known as the Transdisciplinary Research Process4, it has a key characteristic of removing disciplinary boundaries to develop new frameworks for solving common unstructured research problems.

Occupational hygiene practice5 is well poised to tap into these new PtD frameworks because it already operates from a multi-disciplinary and collaborative platform to identify and implement workplace controls for exposure hazards at the individual and system levels. Initially, hygiene controls at the design stage focused on noise reduction. This progressed to dust reduction and heat stress management. More recently, the Health and Safety Executive (UK)6 has successfully implemented a control banding technique for bundling workplace risks into control strategies or bands based on combinations of hazard and exposure info. These are combined with risk management and exposure management methodology, to directly link the hazard to specific control measures. NIOSH7 has since developed an occupational exposure banding (OEB) technique for workplace exposure situations where an OEL is unavailable.

Being a shared concept, PtD fits into the transdisciplinary generic design process8 at several stages. This process covers the complete lifecycle of a product (or system) and includes disposal at the end-of-life period.  It begins with the conceptual design, refinement of requirements, feasibility stage and continues throughout the preliminary design process. Occupational hygiene input should form an integral part of the PtD inputs into these stages including the final testing phase, to ensure compliance with product specifications. This approach will embed the application of occupational hygiene principles into the design stages and help reduce costs overall.

Better sustainable health and environmental impacts can be achieved by making business leaders more aware of the role of occupational hygiene in the collaborative risk management approach during design. This can be further enhanced by collaborating with researchers to investigate new solutions to existing design-related challenges and supporting professional accreditation organizations to make PtD an integral part of their assessments. A holistic lifecycle-design approach would reduce the need for on-going monitoring, modification and remediation that accompany much of the present day products and systems e.g. marine pollution by plastic waste and landfill accumulation of e-waste containing toxic components.

  1. NIOSH Workshop to launch a national initiative-Prevention Through Design (PtD), Jul 9-11, 2007. NIOSH web page https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/ptd/
  2. Safe Work Australia webpage https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/safe-design
  3. Ed. A. Ertas. Transdisciplinarity: Bridging Natural Science, Social Science, Humanities & Engineering. 2011 TheATLAS Publishing, Chapter 8, ISBN: 0-9778129-3-6.
  4. A. Ertas. Understanding of Transdiscipline and Transdisciplinary Process. Transdisciplinary Journal of Engineering & Science Vol.1, No. 1, Dec-2010, pp.55-73.
  5. Australian Institute of Occupational Hygienists (AIOH) careers webpage https://www.aioh.org.au/education-cpd/interested-in-a-career-in-occupational-hygiene
  6. Health and Safety Executive, UK Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) essentials guide http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/guidance/coshh-technical-basis.pdf
  7. NIOSH Occupational Exposure Banding webpage https://www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/oeb/
  8. Ed. A. Ertas. Transdisciplinarity: Bridging Natural Science, Social Science, Humanities & Engineering. 2011 TheATLAS Publishing, ISBN: 0-9778129-3-6 Chapter 4, Fig.4.4 pp83.
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