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Incorporating health and safety concepts in building plans reduces accident rates and costs

Incorporating health and safety concepts into building plans reduces accident rates and safety costs, according to the PhD defended by engineer Juan Pedro Reyes at the University of the Basque Country

Workplace accidents are currently a great human, social and economic problem. Within the industrial sector, the construction industry has one of the highest accident rates 27.34 % of the total of accidents in the workplace. Moreover, Spain tops the list in Europe for accident rates in this sector.

The 1995 Law on Workplace Risk Prevention introduced regulations which aimed to reduce this rate to the average European level. Nevertheless, the legislation did not achieve the expected result.: according to the latest figures from the National Institute of Statistics, between October 2006 and September 2007 the number of accidents in the building sector rose by 1.4 % with respect to the same period the previous year.

In this context, industrial engineer, Juan Pedro Reyes, from the Higher Technical School of Engineers at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU) defended his PhD, New methodology for evaluation of sustainability regarding health and safety requirements for building plans. The PhD was directed by J. Tomás San José Lombera within the remit of the nationwide MIVES research project, in which the following took part: the Department of Construction Engineering at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, the Department of Metal Mining Engineering and Materials Sciences at the Bilbao Higher Technical School of Engineers and the Construction and Territorial Development Unit of the LABEIN-Tecnalia Foundation.

This work will be presented by Dr. Juan Pedro Reyes Pérez at a talk to be given at the III International Congress on Safety and Health at Work, organised by OSALAN-the Basque Institute for Workplace Safety and Health, to take place in Bilbao this June. Dr. Juan Pedro Reyes will put forward a mathematical tool that will enable the quantitative calculation of the overall value rate of sustainability for a building, in terms of its safety and health.

Juan Pedro Reyes Pérez is an engineer in Industrial Organisation, a safety engineer and a qualified expert in Workplace Risk Prevention in the specialities of safety, hygiene and applied ergonomics and psychosociology. He is currently working as an auditor for CE branded construction products and coordinator of trials for construction solutions with new materials at the Construction and Territorial Development Unit of the LABEIN-Tecnalia Foundation.

Applying safety from the design stage

Dr Juan Pedro Reyes PhD thesis underlines the need to incorporate the concept of safety into the whole life cycle of a building (conception, construction, useful life and reintegration), with special emphasis on its first phase: design. For Dr Reyes the prime main players in the application of safety and health in a building project are, in order of importance, the promoter, the designers (architects and engineers) and the construction company.

Starting with this as a basis, Dr Reyes drew up a mathematical model structured in accordance with the four life cycle phases of a building (conception, construction, useful life and reintegration), divided, in turn, into eleven sub-criteria, from which 27 indicators were finally obtained. These indicators define those aspects directly related to the causes that give rise to accidents, taking in the location of the building, the building materials or the level of subcontracting and the environmental impact of its demolition. All these are aspects to define for the building project itself.

Safety and health index

The methodology put forward by Dr. Reyes is eminently practical; it enables the analysis of the compliance or otherwise of each of the 27 indicators and evaluates this compliance on a scale from 0 to 100. By means of a computer application, a mathematical model is applied to the values obtained, associating a function of determined value to each indicator and enabling the homogenising of the values obtained for the various indicators in just one safety and health index (S&SM index). This index will determine the sustainability of a building as regards its safety, on a scale from 0 to 1.

This tool, drawn up by Dr. Juan Pedro Reyes, enables the evaluation of the viability of a building as regards its safety, highly useful to private and/or public property developers when adjudicating a building project that is open to tender. In fact, it is not just a matter of checking to see if legislation is being complied with, but to evaluate good practices in preventing foreseeable risks in a building project or plan.

Costs vs safety

When approving building projects it is financial criteria that currently predominates in the majority of cases. In this PhD, presented at the UPV/EHU, a comparative analysis for the building of two industrial premises was undertaken; in one the cost factor was prime and, in the other, safety. In accord with the model put forward by Dr Juan Pedro Reyes, the S&SM index resulting from the first came to 0.17 and, in the second – much more sustainable -, it was 0.80 and produced far fewer accidents during its life cycle.

As regards total costs of safety, including the installation of collective measures for safety during the construction work, maintenance of safety once the premises were completed and accidents, etc., Dr. Reyes has shown that these costs can multiply as much as four times in the case of the less sustainable project, i.e. in the building plan that did not take into account safety and health from the design stage.

Alaitz Ochoa de Eribe | alfa
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