How Stupid Do I Have to Design For?
Written by David Smith on November 3, 2018
When we are designing a new product, one question that we ask is always "who are we designing this for?" Who is going to use it?  How are they going to use it?  Where are they going to use it?  And how will that affect the safety of the operator, user, or bystanders of the machine?  There is no doubt that these factors affect the safety of the machine and are necessary considerations for any design safety review. 

For example,  if I were designing a piece of exercise equipment, I might design it differently if I were designing it for Lebron James' personal trailer (presumably one of the best in the world) than if I was designing it for "Bob the January Warrior."  You know the type that sets a weight loss resolution on New Year's Eve and hits the gym two or three times in January before forgetting his resolution, not to touch another piece of exercise equipment until the following January.  

When performing the hazard analysis part of the Design Safety Review, it is important and necessary to consider how each of the following affect the probability of occurrence of harm.

Personnel who Perform the Tasks

When considering the personnel who perform the tasks, it is essential to consider their level of training, their skill and experience.  Is this a person who you can expect to read a manual?  Will they read the warning labels?  Have they used a machine like this before?  Do they use machines like this all the time?  And do the answers to these questions increase or decrease the probability of occurrence of harm?

Where it will be used?

Environmental factors may also increase or decrease the probability of occurrence of harm.  How is the housekeeping?  Is the work area clean and tidy or is it cluttered? How is the lighting?  What are the working surfaces like?  Are people on ladders, walkways, stairs, platforms, sitting at a desk?  Is it noisy or quiet?  Is it a well ventalated area?  Is it temperature controlled? Overly humid?  All of these things can affect the probability of occurance of harm and need to be considered in the design of the machine and in the design safety review. 

Human Factors:

Is there a sequence of steps that need to be followed?  What happens if steps are taken out of order or if certain steps are skipped all together?  What if they add steps to the process?

Are people interacting with each other as well as with the machine?  Is there interaction required for the proper functioning of the machine?  Is their interaction unrelated to the task at hand?

Are the people aware of the hazards and risks?  Is safety top of mind, or is there another goal?  In the gym, safety is usually expected and people don't usually think about how their actions might lead to injury. 

Are there any motivatioins to deviate from standard working procedures?  is the project behind, is it a rush job?  Are people working over time?  Is their bonus based on how much they can get done?  Will they get fired if they don't meet a certain quota?

Are there effects of repeated exposure?  Vibration?  noise?  Chemical Exposure?  Again, in the gym, many people's abllity to complete the task decreases with each repetition, increasing the probability of occurrence of harm. 

Is the environment Noisy?  Is loud music playing, are people screaming, grunting and groaning?  

Clearly, there are many factors that need to be considered to determine how to design the equipment.  If you would like more information on how Design Safety Reviews and risk assessments can improve the safety of your products, equipment, or processes, check out the free training:

David Smith

David Smith helps companies improve the safety of their products, equipment and processes.  He is an expert in risk assessments, and design safety reviews and making safety easy to understand.  He is a licensed professional Engineer (PE) and a certified safety professional (CSP).
If you're interested in improving safety in your business then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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