Design Thinking for Health & Safety

The middle of the 20th century saw the development of the concept of design as a process that could be used in more than just dealing with the aesthetics of a product or structure, but as an engineering tool to develop useful solutions to engineering problems. In the 1980s the design thinking movement grew to be used in business to improve processes. Tim Brown, CEO of the innovation and design company IDEO, has described design thinking as a discipline that aligns people’s needs with practical solutions and workable business strategies. Broadly speaking, design thinking focuses attention on people and their behaviour to gain insight into how best to solve the problems they face.

Traditionally, Health & Safety control measure implementation, such as safe working procedures, machine guarding, PPE, etc., has short-circuited involvement of the actual people doing the work. This is like developing a new car or shoe without checking to see if people would want to drive the car, or wear the shoe. This is one of the fundamental failings of most Health and Safety campaigns in New Zealand, and causes widespread dissatisfaction among workers. Not only that, the lack of worker engagement means that you are not complying with the Health and Safety at Work Act and Regulations, which set explicit requirements for worker engagement and participation.

When you look at the phases in the design thinking process arranged as a design cycle, this form lends itself extremely well to ensuring that people are considered and engaged in the process, when you think about using it to develop effective controls for a Health and Safety system. For example, when you determine that WorkSafe expects you to install guarding to isolate people from a hazard, the first thing you should do is go to the people involved and ask them for input to design the most effective and least intrusive guarding. This addresses the fundamental problem of worker dissatisfaction, as well as checks the worker engagement and participation boxes.

We believe that Health and Safety control measure products as well as worker engagement and satisfaction can be dramatically improved by going back to our roots as engineers and following a structured design thinking approach. If you would like to explore the possibilities for improving your worker engagement and satisfaction, while keeping people safer at the same time, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

 team member
Dr. Louw Butler

PhD, MScEng, BEng