Safety in Design: Good for the project, good for the planet
In celebration of International Women in Engineering Day on June 23, we are sharing how our women engineers #MakeSafetySeen by demonstrating strong safety principles in their work and committing to deliver a safer world through their engineering expertise.
Concha Bibian, an architect based in AECOM’s Madrid office, explains the development of her safety, health and environment (SHE) expertise — and how she’s applying it on AECOM projects through our Safety in Design reviews.
Tell us about you and your role at AECOM.
I joined AECOM Madrid office as an architect six years ago. I currently work as an architecture lead on site in the construction of a data centre in Madrid. Throughout my career, I have worked in other large-scale projects, such as airport terminals, offices and logistic hubs. I like these complex projects where different disciplines work together, and I really enjoy working on site and seeing how what we have put on paper comes to life. It can be very stressful sometimes, but also extremely rewarding.
How did you get involved in SHE?
I had never been specially involved in SHE until one colleague asked me to give him a hand with the Safety in Design (SiD) assessment for a huge airport project that was being developed in our office. I found it was an innovative and specific approach to design and got more into it, until I became SHE coordinator for my business line in Madrid. From there, I have worked to incorporate Safety in Design as part of the review process in all projects in our office.
How and why is Safety in Design important for project planning and delivery at AECOM?
For SiD reviews, we hold sessions where everybody is invited to participate to generate ideas. This is very stimulating — especially for junior architects who have had limited opportunities to contribute to projects. On top of this, they can learn about construction sequences from their senior colleagues.
After some time working with a previous SiD tool, we understood that there was some scope for improvement in order to make it more practical and flexible for different types of projects. This is how I took part in the development of the new SiD assessment tool that we are currently using for project reviews across Europe + India. Ideally, the new tool will not only contribute to better designs, but it will also help to track recurrent hazards and help us better prepare for future projects.
What are the challenges in this task?
It is key to involve clients in the SiD reviews. It is important that our clients share a similar culture and awareness on health and safety issues. Very often we work with industrial companies who have their own internal safety requirements, and they are happy to work with us and spend time and resources to anticipate any future hazards along their buildings’ lifecycle. On other occasions, we must persuade clients that pursuing a safe design from the early stages of a project will save them bigger headaches in the future, and this is added value for their assets.
One important aspect of a SiD approach to projects is the possibility to reduce the impact that construction industry has on the environment. By optimizing construction processes, we can limit the amount of waste materials that are traditionally generated on a construction site and minimize the impact on the planet. Ultimately, if we want to design for the entire lifecycle of an asset, we must also think about how a building will be dismantled or transformed in the future. By anticipating this, we can add value to a structure even in the very moment when it becomes obsolete.
For me, a good design is one that overcomes restrictions and makes them part of the project’s existence and transforms them into positive impacts for the community. Finding the safest construction procedure or helping those who are using or maintaining a building in the future may sound like extra effort, but the results always pay back. I hope I can extend this way of thinking to other architects through AECOM.