The importance of designing in safety

Here James Smith, Co-Director of A-SAFE, explains why designing in safety at the architectural stage is essential to ensure a productive operation.


James Smith is the Co-Owner and Director at A-SAFE, a manufacturer of the world’s first fixed, flexible, polymer-based safety barrier system. Used in industrial workplaces across the world, A-SAFE barriers are able to flex on impact from a workplace vehicle, absorb the impact energies and reform to their original state.


t all starts with the layout. There are hundreds of considerations to factor in during the architectural phase of a new development, upgrade or redesign. If the vital components aren’t included at this stage, it can be complex to introduce them into plans and budget later. If dangerous pedestrian and vehicle interactions can be designed out entirely during the planning period, the long-term potential for productivity is hugely improved.

If a facility is organised, with distinct segregation of people from vehicles, clearly defined routes for pedestrians and traffic, reduction of dangerous crossing points and proper protection of structures and equipment – then the facility is designed to be productive. Visual segregation can be built into a facility using painted lines and signage, but this does not prove as effective as physical segregation, nor does it stop desire lines.

Desire lines

A desire line is the preferred route a person will take to travel from A to B, usually the quickest, straightest route – although obstacles will curve the desire line and force a more meandering route.

In a facility, desire lines still apply – and understanding them is crucial at the architectural planning stage to ensure the protection of pedestrians.

According to health and safety statistics, approximately 50 people are killed each year and over 5000 injured in accidents involving workplace transport. Mixing vehicles and pedestrian traffic increases the risk of potential accidents, so it is imperative that risk is kept to a minimum.

Imagine an employee who needs to cross a factory floor to press a button. It’s unlikely there are hills or landmarks in his way, but there will be machinery, vital structures and moving vehicles such as forklift trucks. It is here when a desire line and the safest possible route may not be identical. Desire lines often intersect with moving traffic, head down narrow walkways or lead into inaccessible areas.

It is essential that pedestrians do not have ‘free roaming’ rights in a facility. The segregation of vehicles from pedestrians is at the core of safety in the workplace, and pedestrian routes should be created that correspond as closely as possible with desire lines, dissuading any attempt to make hazardous shortcuts across a facility.

Crossing points

Ideally a facility will be designed with segregation in mind, and pedestrians should be given individual routes that avoid crossover, unless the design of the building dictates otherwise.

Crossing points are critical areas within a facility where a pedestrian and vehicle route cross, and they must be properly managed using barriers, access gates and other measures to control the flow of pedestrians and vehicles. If implementing barriers, they should be installed as part of a wider traffic management plan that understands the potential forces of the vehicles in operation and therefore ensure they are fit for purpose.

Best practice for ensuring safe crossing points is to reduce or remove them altogether. If designed in from the start, A-SAFE advises using overhead walkways where possible and making crossings highly visible using ground markings, lights and signs.

Health and safety from the start

It’s crucial to have a safe system of traffic management in place with methods and procedures for arrival, reception, unloading, loading and movement of vehicles within the workplace. People and vehicles should be segregated as far as is ‘reasonably practicable’.

Polymer safety barriers will protect the vital components of a facility, but they will also guide, segregate, streamline and organise a workforce, forcing vehicle traffic and pedestrians to take different routes. These barriers should be selected based on several key influences, including the weight of the vehicles in operation and through calculating their kinetic energy and maximum speed of travel. Steel barriers are an option too, but require frequent replacement and accumulate expensive maintenance costs, where modernised polymer versions do not.

Implementing the correct control measures is important, as advised in PAS 13: 2017 – a new code of practice for safety barriers used in traffic management. Although some of the measures may seem customary practice (eliminating hazards and isolating them from pedestrians), they are often low on the priority list for facilities, and so is the frequency of reviewing these measures to ensure they continue to perform effectively.

Vehicle traffic routes should be designed with specific control measures to provide the safest route; a one-way system will minimise the need for reversing and allow for adequate passage space, it should be free from pedestrians, be wide enough for the largest vehicle that uses them, avoid sharp or blind bends and marked with the correct health and safety signage, to mention but a few.

Pedestrian routes on the other hand, require a walkway with a minimum width of 600mm and additional room for deflection of the barrier, should be free from vehicles, use clear markings and signs and have raised kerbs to define the edge of the route – just some of the control measures advised by PAS 13: 2017.

In an ideal scenario, initial floor plans should include pedestrian routes and walkways, pedestrian zones and working areas, vehicle routes, pedestrian crossing points, critical structures and equipment protection, vehicle parking areas and unloading zones to create the most safety-conscious traffic management system possible.

More information on PAS 13: 2017 can be found via BSI’s website.

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