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INTEGRATING SAFETY BY DESIGN INTO ARCHITECT EDUCATION

Research finds ‘principles’ not ‘rules’ are key to engaging future generations

HSE and RIBA commissioned (2010) a team from the University of Sheffield to undertake a research project into the teaching of health and safety in undergraduate schools of Architecture in the UK.  The need for the research was recognised by:

  • studies into ‘identification and management of risk in undergraduate construction courses’ [2001 and 2004] which highlighted the need for schools of architecture to have a more consistent and integrated approach to the teaching of health and safety;
  • a project in 2009 looking at ‘Integrating risk concepts into undergraduate engineering courses’ which provided a precedent for individual higher education courses to embed health and safety into their core activities in innovative ways; and
  • ‘One Death is too Many’ Report [2009] in which a key recommendations was to review of health and safety teaching in construction industry courses at Higher Education.

The report Healthy design, creative safety: Approaches to health and safety teaching and learning in undergraduate schools of architecture prepared by the University of Sheffield for the HSE and RIBA has now been published. The findings and recommendations are summarised below.

 
Findings
 
  • Sharing: there is evidence of innovative and creative ways of teaching health and safety. Good practice often addresses health and safety in indirect ways and knowledge is rarely shared between institutions, resulting in variability of approach and delivery;
  • Approach: it is appropriate to cover H&S in undergraduate schools of architecture. There is an academic imperative to the subject and it is not just something that should be dealt with in practice. Many interviewees recognised the need for the subject to be creatively addressed;
  • Perceptions: ‘health and safety’ is sometimes perceived negatively by students and staff largely due to a misconception that the subject is purely concerned with applying a set of rules in practice;
  • Context: live Projects offer an effective context to learn about risk management and issues of health and safety. Students benefit from working with real clients and scenarios, and from an active engagement with the process of making.
 
Recommendations
 
  1. Principles nor rules: At undergraduate level students need to understand the principles of health and safety thinking, rather than the details of legislation. Students need to understand that as designers they are responsible for the safety of others, both during construction and in use.
  2. Language affects learning: a consideration of ‘buildability, maintainability and usability’ at all stages of the design process is likely to be more engaging and better understood than using the term ‘health and safety’.
  3. Contractor partnerships: visits to construction sites play an important role in contextualising the students’ understanding of health and safety issues. The potential exists for architecture schools to form partnerships with major contractors in order to make site visits more viable. University Estates Departments can also potentially help with this.
  4. Integration not abstraction: health and safety should be integrated into design projects where possible, rather than being an abstracted subject.
  5. Coherent strategy: University schools of architecture should review the teaching that is given across the undergraduate years to ensure that there is a coherent strategy for teaching health and safety concepts across the degree programme and beyond.

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