Hong Kong needs your help to design for greater safety

Design for Safety is the process of identifying potential hazards at the start of design work to mitigate risk better throughout the entire life of a construction project (©GCR, illustration by Denis Carrier)
Following an increase in construction fatalities in Hong Kong in recent years, the Hong Kong Construction Industry Council (CIC) has decided to develop a Design for Safety (DfS) management system and has requested insights from industry professionals in UK and Singapore to make sure it is tapping into the best international practices.

Design for Safety (DfS) is the process of identifying potential hazards at the start of design work to mitigate risk better throughout the entire life of a construction project. The CIC believes a good understanding of DfS can help improve morale and productivity, prevent injuries and illness among workers and the public, and deliver timely and cost-efficient projects.

It set up a DfS Task Force in May 2020, and appointed Arcadis in June 2021 to review and develop the future DfS Management System in Hong Kong. The plan is to develop a DfS management system for all construction projects, with reference material and training.

In Hong Kong, current DfS practices are based on the UK’s “Safety in Design” approach demonstrated in the Construction Design and Management (CDM) 1994 model. The city’s first CDM model was implemented in 2004, while in 2016 the Hong Kong Development Bureau published Guidance Notes on Design for Safety and Worked Examples.

While these existing models brought positive changes, statistics from the city’s Labour Department reveal that fatalities have increased over the past three years, indicating that there is a long road ahead to improve the adoption of DfS within the industry and to achieve an effective safety culture in Hong Kong and in other countries.

As with many countries, construction is one of the highest-risk industries in Hong Kong. Every year, a majority of workplace accidents happen due to unsafe work practices. While enforcement bodies are inclined to hold the client or developer fully responsible for project safety, there are limits to what they can do to ensure the safety across the project life cycle.

DfS supports a collaborative risk management approach that requires the involvement of all the duty holders/stakeholders of each stage of the project, from design through to demolition, to be consulted and to identify risks and solutions. Every duty holder/stakeholder (i.e. designer, contractor, asset manager) is also responsible for reporting any hazard and associated significant risk or non-conformance they observe.

Stephen Coppin FCIOB, chair of the CIOB’s Health, Safety and Welfare Group is also supporting Arcadis in the effort. “The principles, emphasis and importance of CDM in UK and DfS in HK and Singapore is ensuring the right information is provided to the right people at the right times through the project lifecycle stages,” he said.

“Hence, we have identified the importance of planning and procurement that minimum health and safety requirements and standards expected are made clear through a client’s strategy brief with a RACI on who is responsible, accountable, needs to be consulted and informed early at the inception of the project, including to improve the culture through the adoption of a carrot and stick approach using both lead and lagging KPIs providing recognition and reward.”

How you can help

In order to achieve these project objectives, Arcadis has launched a structured DfS survey for respondents in Hong Kong, the UK and Singapore to learn about and assess the current application of DfS or its equivalent in those places.

Responses so far indicate that the benefits of DfS are hindered by insufficient resources and time, lack of clarity in the demarcation of responsibilities, and lack of priority of health and safety in business decisions, but we need deeper insight in order to make sure Hong Kong’s DfS management system is fit for purpose.

This is why we are reaching out further in Hong Kong and to other mature industries for insights and best practices to help shape the future of DfS in Hong Kong. Responses will be treated with strict anonymity.

In return, we will share preliminary survey results and findings with participants upon request to help you understand the global and local gaps in DfS and identify areas of improvement that can be applied to your everyday practice.

The surveys can be accessed online as follows:

“This is great opportunity for us to share what works whether applied to a micro refurbishment or a complex infrastructure project,” said Coppin. “It could be the relevant pre-construction information and design control that should managed, monitored and coordinated through the project life cycle or the adoption of digital rehearsals to identify the right mitigation and controls. We would welcome your contribution to help make a difference.”


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