New airport partnership on safety in design

We’re bringing two key Discovering Safety projects together to find better ways of eliminating safety hazards from construction sites, where 30 lives were lost in the UK between 2021 and 2022.*

Working together with partners in some of the UK’s major airports, we have ambitions to use data science to find an answer to one of the key challenges in safety – how to eliminate risks at the design stage.

Our Construction Risk Library and Leading Indicators projects are talking to partners in airports including Heathrow, Birmingham, Manchester and Stansted. These airports have several significant construction projects in the pipeline, which could provide an ideal live testing ground for our projects and help construction industry partners incorporate safety in design.


Starting early to eliminate risks

Designing out risks is recognised throughout the construction sector as desirable but it’s not easy to do, says Gordon Crick, HSE’s technical lead on the Construction Risk Library.

“The earliest stage of a project is often the only time when risks can be eliminated completely, rather than just managed. However, this is hard to achieve in practice, because risks aren’t always easy to see, describe or understand at this point.”

The Construction Risk Library can give everyone involved in a construction project clear visibility of risks and how to treat them or, ideally, make sure they don’t occur in the first place. Built on historic data supplied by some of the UK’s largest construction companies, the Construction Risk Library uses dynamic visualisation tools that are not normally available (or affordable) at an early stage of a project.

“By applying data along with 3D and 4D visualisations for safety, we can help ensure that projects are designed with as many safety risks as possible accounted for, long before a spade hits the ground,” says Gordon.


Proactive steps towards a safer worksite – from the design stage

As well as using data to eliminate risks at an early stage, we are using these Discovering Safety tools to promote safety in design. We are bringing together the powerful visualisation capability of the Construction Risk Library with the evidence-based, proactive measures in the Leading Indicators project. This will make it easier for the airports to design safety into the earliest stages of their construction projects, providing the evidence needed that proactive, often behaviour-based, measures really work and are worth investing in.

Leading indicators are part of the ‘balanced scorecard’ of health and safety management; they are steps that can be taken to prevent people being harmed at work. They include steps taken by employers to encourage a culture of safety on site – such as start-of-shift toolbox talks and site visits by leaders.

HSE Data Scientist Steven Naylor, who heads up the Leading Indicators project, said: “To date, the project has matched historic data on incident frequency against the presence of leading indicators or preventive measures. Working with the airports on some of their upcoming major construction projects would allow us to go further and identify how and why leading indicators succeed, providing more effective metrics for performance management in the future.”

“That might mean measuring not just the number and frequency of toolbox talks, for example, but the content and quality, and being able to demonstrate how and why these factors have an impact.”


Powerful tools for collaboration

Together, the projects will:

  • provide powerful tools to be used during ‘Early Contractor Involvement (ECI)’, when construction contractors sit down with designers and inject a real-world perspective of how things happen on site into the process of design
  • help companies with their CDM responsibilities as Principal Designer and Principal Contractor
  • give contractors and designers the insights and information they need for meaningful collaboration will allow projects to be planned with risks (and how to treat them) built in from the start. It will make the case for better, earlier collaboration, use of digital modelling for safety as well as design purposes, and more investment in proactive steps towards a safety culture

Gordon explained why the two projects are working together: “The Construction Risk Library works in the design phase of a project. When combined with Leading Indicators, it will allow companies to see the design phase as a contributor to well-organised project management.”


Effective metrics for ECI

One ingredient for good project management (and a leading indicator) is ECI, getting the contractor around the table from the earliest possible stage of the design, explains Steven:

“ECI leads to safer working environments by allowing the contractor to add knowledge of how things work on site (and the hazards likely to occur) at the earliest stage. This should influence the design to eliminate hazards, such as working at height or in confined spaces, at source.”

But just ticking the box marked ‘ECI’ does not guarantee that effective collaboration or safer design will happen. The Leading Indicators project shows how to take things further, providing us with an evidence base to evaluate the quality of the involvement, says Steven.

“Did the meetings take place early enough and often enough? Did the team behave in a collaborative way? Putting in evidence-based, quantitative measurements around behaviour and culture can really help make design and build teams work together effectively.”

Metrics could include the number of risks on the Design Risk Register that were ticked off at the design stage because of the early interaction. Key areas where these risks occur include the use of temporary structures needing support, which involve a great deal of potential risk. “Designing-in measures such as offsite construction and the use of the appropriate plant such as cranes can remove much of this risk,” said Steven.


Eliminating uncertainty

Taken together, says Gordon, the two projects will help designers and contractors work together to eliminate uncertainty in a project.

“Uncertainty and risk go together like petrol and matches,” he adds. “Working together, these two key Discovering Safety projects will help further integrate design and construction, incorporating everything that goes into making a project happen – behaviours as well as processes, ideally all the way back to the procurement stage and the way in which clients write contracts.”

Next steps in development

Working with the airports will be a springboard for the final phase of development of the two projects, which began by working with construction companies to test the concepts on historic data.

Discovering Safety will be talking with the airports in the next few months. We hope this real-world collaboration on live projects will allow us to develop them into actual products that can be used to prevent people from being harmed at work.


One of our partners, Steve Hill from MAG Airports (who run East Midlands, Manchester and Stansted Airports) said: “Airports are some of the most safety-critical working environments, presenting many unique challenges to those involved in construction projects. Success for us is ensuring we deliver projects while minimising impacts on our operation, travelling guests and business partners. Understanding and managing risk is a key factor to our success, so we’re delighted to work with the Discovering Safety Team to help us and the wider construction community to improve health and safety, and provide the evidence industry needs to be truly proactive in promoting safe and responsible behaviours.”   


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*Construction statistics in Great Britain, 2022 (