Safe Design

October 20, 2022

Trudi Stevens

Senior Tutor for Promethean Executive

As I type this my daughter’s dog is sat behind me. She is a rescue dog, mad as a box of frogs, unstable and a menace. She is also very affectionate, intelligent and lovable. She is a Staffie /Patterdale cross breed and was probably bred for illegal hare coursing, illegal badger baiting or even dog fighting. With deep reluctance, on the advice of a dog trainer (and against their kinder instincts) her new owners have now started using a choke chain when taking her out.  I can testify that the effect on her dangerous reactions to other dogs is both positive and helpful. She is learning to control the powerful predatory instincts that were bred into her and encouraged by those who created her, through discomfort and pain, where gentleness and positive reinforcement failed.

The effort of putting on the choke chain correctly got me thinking about the concept of ‘safe’ design. Safe design is a defined as:

“the integration of hazard identification and risk assessment methods early in the design process to eliminate or minimise the risks of injury throughout the life of the product being designed. It encompasses all design including facilities, hardware, systems, equipment, products, tooling, materials, energy controls, layout, and configuration” (Australian Safety and Compensation Council, 2006).

There was no thought to the dog’s welfare or danger to people when the dog was bred and the result is a living, breathing hazard. She represents some of the worst aspects of unsafe design. The design of the necessary intervention (the choke chain) is to take the dog to the very edge of pain in order to make her safe. Applying one hazard to make safe another – the irony is not lost on me.

The ongoing agony of the effects of the Covid pandemic reflects this dichotomy. The application of hazards to the economy, to millions of peoples’ livelihoods, homes, health and wellbeing, to prevent the hazard of a contagion that has many unknown and known effects, is painful. That pain is going to increase (for some people) to unbearable levels. Having nursed two close family members through the process, the analogy with chemotherapy seems appropriate, if grim.

The design of our economic system, society, communities and health systems is undergoing the first stages of fundamental changes that may take a generation or more to be realised. Those changes will trigger further and more widespread change.  I will discuss the changes that will emerge and that are being deliberately created in articles to follow this one. I have an awful feeling that some of those changes will feel like a choke chain on our way of life. However, we have not survived millions of years of change and near extinction events by ignoring our environment. We learned, made the painful changes and adapted, and we will again.


Australian Safety and Compensation Council (2006). GUIDANCE ON THE PRINCIPLES OF SAFE DESIGN FOR WORK. [online] Canberra: Australian Government. Available at:

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