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Safety & Health Conversations: Talking Prevention through Design with Mike McCullion

Mike McCullion
Mike McCullion

Mike McCullion is the Director of Market Sectors and Safety for the Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association. Mike recently chaired an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A10 subcommittee to develop a report on Prevention through Design (PtD). Scott Schneider sat down with Mike to discuss the future of PtD principles in construction.

Scott: What got you interested in Prevention through Design and developing this report?

Mike: It’s one of those forward-thinking ideas that involves owners, architects, the engineering community and the design community. Those are the people we really need to get involved on the front end. Construction is a collaborative effort, not just at the planning stage but throughout, especially with the specialty contractors I represent. Contractors have to work with the final design whether they like it or not. I see this early intervention as a win-win as long as owners are open to it.

Scott: How do we get owners to buy in to PtD?

Mike: The business case usually gets their attention because they understand return on investment. Once owners accept that aspect, they start seeing that even though PtD is a bit harder up front financially, it makes up for itself over the lifecycle of the building, especially as the building is maintained. This technical report examines the PtD process through the lifecycle of a project, including the return on investment through the life of a building.

Scott: To sell this to the design community, is it best to start with contractors who both design and build the project?

Mike: That’s a good place to start but I think PtD can be used in any contract mechanism. The architects need to get on board with form and function. Safety is part of function. You build the building the way the owner wants, but basic safety needs should still be included. For example, you can do very nice parapet walls on flat roofs that fit into the form of the building but also function as a guardrail for anybody working on the roof.

Scott: Do you think PtD has to be mandated like in England and Australia for it to become common practice?

Mike: I look at what’s happening with LEED, which is moving towards being accepted by code officials. I could see PtD first being put into building codes rather than through a regulatory route. If by code a flat roof should have some sort of parapet wall and built-in anchorage points, that gives flexibility to the architects and engineers who are going to design it.

Scott: Once architects and designers feel more comfortable with PtD concepts and adopt it more, do you think it could become a selling point for their services?

Mike: I compare it to “green” buildings. If you’re an architect known for his or her ability to design green buildings, then owners who appreciate that will come to you. If you are an architect or engineer who incorporates PtD and safety into your buildings, then owners who appreciate that will come to you first.

Scott: As you mention in the report, many designers are using software like BIM. How much do these software packages incorporate PtD principles and how can we encourage construction software developers to include it?

Mike: Virtual design is playing a bigger role in how construction is done and PtD can be a big part of that through software like BIM. The whole construction process is changing. In the past, we used paper checklists. Now you have automated checklists and apps in cell phones. Putting PtD principles into those apps can help make them more available and widespread.

Scott: Some companies hire experienced workers to critique their design before it’s finalized. How can we encourage more workers to get involved in PtD?

Mike: Whenever I do worker training, I have everyone stand up and talk about their experience in the trade, then I total it up for each class. You could have 200 years of experience in the room. I ask workers to use this experience and speak up because they are on the forefront. Whenever you are looking at how a building can be built, these workers have seen what works and what doesn’t. When it doesn’t work, that results in injuries and fatalities. Why not tap into that?

For more information on PtD, visit To purchase the full technical report on Prevention through Design discussed in this article, visit the American Society of Safety Professionals’ website.

[Nick Fox]

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