As businesses look to reduce the risk of workplace accidents, one of the answers may lie in how machinery is designed

Despite the UK’s efforts over the past decade to reduce health and safety risk in the workplace, there were still 137 workplace deaths in 2016[1]. Add to this the thousands of deaths relating to workplace health issues, such as asbestos, and there is clearly more that can be done to keep people safe while they work.
Every death and injury in the workplace carries a significant cost for business – from the obvious trauma such an event creates for employees through to extended periods of downtime, potentially significant fines and reputational damage.
“At the C-suite board level, there is a clear understanding of the importance of risk in the workplace because these people know how damaging accidents can be to their organisation,” explains Graham Parker, President of the Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH). “Often, the problem comes when people below board level try to interpret what senior management want and sometimes get that wrong, or individuals don’t think safety precautions apply to them.”
Human error
This is often the crux of health and safety issues that crop up around the country – the ‘human element’ can often nullify the best-laid intentions and safety procedures. “You see situations where workers actually remove guards from machinery,” says Parker. “In the short term this might allow them to increase productivity by three units an hour, say, but in the long term there’s the genuine risk that someone could lose a limb.
"By designing out the potential for people to hurt themselves and take risks, you have a greater chance of avoiding accidents " Graham Parker, Institute of Occupational Safety and Health
“Quite simply, wherever you have human involvement in a process, that human will often look to do things quicker and potentially put themselves and others at risk,” he adds. “By engineering and designing out the potential for people to hurt themselves and take risks, you have a greater chance of avoiding accidents.”
The focus on safety at the design stage of equipment is something that RS’s DesignSpark team has been looking at closely in recent years, as Mike Bray, Vice President of DesignSpark, explains: “We’ve been evaluating the safety and compliance software marketplace for the past 18 months,” he explains. “Our free software covered all general electronics, mechanical and electrical design and development, but what users were pointing out was the need to demonstrate compliance standards, both in production environments and for finished products.” 
“The options available were limited, particularly at the low-cost end of the market, so we felt that we could provide a tool to manage safety and compliance to users that could really change the dynamic of this sector,” he adds. “Since then we’ve worked with CE-Con, our partner on this project, to develop DesignSpark Safety.”
Safety compliant design
DesignSpark Safety, in simple terms, provides an intuitive navigation for any user through the risk assessment steps and remedial actions needed to ensure their machine design is safe and complies with current legislation. Design engineers have a full audit trail for inspection and can produce the certification required to prove that safety standards, based on ISO 12100:2010, are met. 
Bray believes that DesignSpark Safety will be a huge benefit to design engineers and companies looking to create new machinery that meets all the latest safety standards. “Currently, the range of solutions on offer to businesses to check and certify compliance against safe operation can be confusing,” he says. “Choices range from using specialist companies to manage this, to low-end online spreadsheet tools that do not guide a user through the steps required to ensure their machine design is fully compliant.
“Being available free of charge and offering upgrade packages with our partner (CE-Con) means users have the flexibility to choose how to use DesignSpark Safety according to their need, and have greater control over costs associated with safety and compliance certification.”
In 2015/16 a massive 621,000 workers suffered a non-fatal injury, of which 44,000 were caused by contact with moving machinery[2]. While not all of these are a direct result of machine failure, Bray believes that it’s an issue that can’t be ignored.
"DesignSpark Safety will ultimately help an organisation reduce the risk of accidents to its employees and increase productivity and profitability by reducing lost working time " Mike Bray, Vice President, DesignSpark, RS
“Taking steps to reduce this risk through tools such as DesignSpark Safety can save lives and keep workers gainfully employed in their chosen field,” he says. “It will ultimately help an organisation reduce the risk of accidents to its employees, and increase productivity and profitability by reducing lost working time.”
Find out more about the DesignSpark Safety tool, plus more practical information here