Managing Risk in Design

Many will have heard the term ‘The Hierarchy of Risk’ but what does it really mean and how it will affect the designs you are working so hard on?

In simplistic terms “the Hierarchy of Risk’ is a way of categorizing methods to control risk that either the Contractor or Client will face at some point in the construction and operational life of the building. So, by way of an example, when designing a roof for access, the Designer should always look to eliminate first before employing Running Line or Rope access. Now this is easily suggested, but in practical terms how do you eliminate access to roofs when even the simplest roof design will incorporate gutters? This is where the hard work comes in to design a functional building, which is aesthetically pleasing and safe to build, use and operate.

There are many terms for breaking the Hierarchy of Risk into component parts, but the easiest to remember is ERIC PD, which is a mnemonic for Eliminate, Reduce, Isolate, Control, PPE & Discipline. When managing risk our journey always starts with Eliminate. Of course, a control measure from each aspect of ERIC PD can utilized to control the overall risk, as explained below.


Can you do without it or have it done off site? For example, using DFMA to for riser construction, off site manufacturing, will eliminate the risk of falling into a riser during construction.


You can reduce exposure or frequency of risk. For example, not having plant on a roof but at ground level, will reduce the need to work on the roof so often.


Isolation doesn’t remove risk but contains it, keeping the risk physically separated from people. For example, an acoustic solution in a plant room to isolate noise and vibration from residents.


Have interlocks and guards fitted to machinery; if you open the guard the equipment should stop.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

PPE is the least desirable form of mitigation. PPE will only protect the person wearing it and that is assuming they have the right PPE and most importantly know how to use it correctly. Often Designers opt for a running line system and harness on a roof before considering other measure. This also has a legacy for Clients, needing to ensure training and insurance testing on lines and anchors.

Discipline / training

Employees need to be trained to work and procedures to follow (RAMS and Permits to Work). When designing, it needs to be considered whether the design eliminates the risk. If not, we will need to recommend to clients on other control measures such as training RAMS and permits to work. If this is the case make sure the Client accepts this approach, as surprises aren’t always welcome, particularly if there are ongoing costs for the Client.

Plan A Consultants is an independent consultancy based in London that provides Design Management and Health & Safety services on projects around the world; our experience gained through work on notable projects, collaboratively with Design teams, Contractors and Clients.

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