HomeWorld RegionsEuropeT&D contractors: Safety by design

T&D contractors: Safety by design

John Nixon, engineering director for the systems business unit at Areva T&D UK, discusses how a partnership with National Grid forms part of his company’s objective to achieve zero accident rates worldwide.

John Nixon, Areva T&D, UK

The role of the T&D contractor within the delivery chain is a demanding one where clarity of communication with multiple parties is vital for health and safety, operational and commercial reasons.

Click here to enlarge image

This complexity is further exacerbated when products for a project are being sourced from, or designed and manufactured in countries all over the world. Although European Directives are produced, from which the UK’s Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations are derived, each member state’s perception of what is considered to be safe can be very different.

It is for this very reason that Areva T&D and National Grid have joined forces to deliver training to their overseas suppliers in order to ensure that the design of T&D products for the UK market comply with the CDM Regulations. This partnership also reinforces National Grid’s continued commitment to health and safety through its ‘safety by design’ model and forms part of Areva T&D’s global objective to achieve zero accident rates worldwide, whilst adapting working conditions to local habits and environment wherever possible.


Globalization has certainly made the world a smaller place, with increased trade, communication networks and workforce mobility. Such integration of national economies has also resulted in a steady increase in sourcing products and services from countries around the world, with cost efficiencies fast becoming one of the key drivers for many organizations.

Although cost savings can be achieved by adopting such an approach, there are a number of issues to consider beforehand.

Click here to enlarge image

The UK construction market is one such industry that continues to benefit from forming partnerships and utilizing suppliers in other developed markets. However, the challenge that these organisations now face is how to ensure that the specified health and safety regulations are being complied with. It is fair to say that resources, materials and working practices utilized in construction projects vary enormously from country to country.

Safety procedures are developed in line with individual nation states’ construction experiences and will naturally, diverge. For example to the Western European eye the use of bamboo as a scaffolding support is unfamiliar and appears dangerous, yet bamboo has a tensile strength superior to mild steel, and a strength to weight ratio better than graphite.

Click here to enlarge image

However, in Western Europe where bamboo is neither readily available nor in general use as a scaffolding material, local health and safety standards are geared to tubular steel scaffolding à‚— the material in common use.

Furthermore, local legislation should cover not only the material and physical assembly of the scaffold but the way in which it is utilised and mounted by operatives. Ensuring that the highest standards are met is Areva T&D’s priority in every case, in every location.


Foreign suppliers will of course be familiar with the concept of safety à‚— they will have their own set of health and safety standards and regulations in place that ensure local custom and practice is appropriately healthy and safe.

The issue can often be a lack of understanding and appreciation of what each country’s own legislations stipulate, the methodology used by the customer’s organization and the constraints by the customer’s network on how or when the equipment will be operated and maintained.

Therefore, global suppliers need to appreciate and quickly realise that a more bespoke solution is required in order to align with the member state’s specific health and safety legislations. In the past, designers from outside the UK have generally only considered the world market and understood the risks involved in constructing a piece of equipment and not the maintenance, operation or indeed the deconstruction of it.

From Areva T&D’s perspective the key is to meet and exceed local standards, whatever they are, so that globally Areva T&D can maintain the highest possible health and safety records.

Garry Bridges, SHESQ Manager at National Grid, owner and operator of the high-voltage transmission networks in England and Wales explains: “As technology evolves so does health and safety. If you look back 20 years, people didn’t feel they needed to wear seatbelts à‚— now it is a legal requirement and specific safety initiatives including ABS brakes and airbags are fast becoming a standard feature of many cars today.

“In order to differentiate themselves from their competitors, car manufacturers such as Renault are now looking to their designers to help them predict future expectations on aspects such as design, safety, ergonomics, comfort and speed. Employees working in a hazardous environment such as construction are no different, and expect possible risks to their health and safety to be minimised.

“Our assets have a 40-year lifecycle therefore if our equipment has been designed with an inherent risk attached, then we have to manage that risk every time one of our employee’s needs to carry out necessary operations or maintenance.

“It quickly became apparent that the more we utilised foreign suppliers, the more health and safety was becoming an issue. Therefore, when Areva T&D put forward the concept of educating and providing ongoing training to our suppliers, it fitted perfectly with the challenge we were facing, as well as supporting our safety by design ethos of ensuring zero accidents in the workplace.”


According to the UK’s Health & Safety Executive, 2800 people have died from injuries received during construction work over the last 25 years which is why health and safety precautions are taken so seriously, but sometimes risks cannot be completely eliminated. Therefore, it is our responsibility as designers to incorporate health and safety into the design process of our substations, allowing us to significantly reduce or avoid certain hazards altogether.

To do this, suppliers must be aware of the construction methods and customer operating/maintenance regimes used onsite so that they can identify hazards, produce risk assessments and offer mitigating solutions in accordance with the CDM regulations. These regulations which were first issued in 1994 and updated in 2007 are specific to the UK market and cover the whole lifecycle of the product including the operation, maintenance and demolition as well as construction.

Within such legislation, designers are considered to be anyone who influences the design process in any way and is therefore responsible for any risk they can reasonably foresee.

Take a member of the procurement team for example – by simply specifying a set of materials for a particular order gives that specifying person a responsibility to ensure how the materials are delivered, offloaded and transported around site and ask questions including: what equipment is available to perform these tasks at the location; are the site staff appropriately trained; has a risk assessment been undertaken and can all this be done with the minimum risk?


The training introduced by Areva T&D and in collaboration with National Grid provides foreign suppliers with a coherent understanding of the health and safety issues that the UK market faces, and what is required to overcome such challenges.

Consequently, designers of products are starting to consider the possible health and safety issues throughout the whole lifecycle, rather than just the risks involved in constructing a piece of equipment.

Couple this with National Grid’s functional documentation which defines specific, product requirements and provides in depth guidance, overseas suppliers are now giving consideration to delivering a more fit for purpose solution which helps to reduce the risks attached when operating and maintaining its substations.

For example, lighting in a substation will invariably need to be replaced over the 40 year lifecycle. Historically, employees at National Grid would have needed to use special mobile, elevated platforms to perform such maintenance (working from ladders is not acceptable) but designers have introduced light fittings which can be lowered to ground level.

Such design negates the need for employees to work at a high level and therefore reduces the risk to their safety.


Ergonomic issues such as operating handles for equipment are also being addressed at the design stage. Having these handles at a poor ergonomic position could lead to people having to bend down low and risk hurting their backs. It is up to the designers to ensure that access to these handles are in the optimum position in order for people to operate the switchgear safely.

Bridges continues: “There are lots of examples where more can be done to reduce the risk to our employees. We strongly believe that safety by design as a philosophy is a journey rather than a destination.

“It is about continuous improvement. Of course we want to embrace new technology but not if it means lowering our health and safety standards for our people. Our global suppliers need to recognise that world market, safety expectations may not always be compatible with the UK’s health and safety legislative requirements and we need to continue working closely together to constantly improve.”

By providing a full understanding of the health and safety requirements throughout the entire design process, Areva T&D and National Grid can ensure that its suppliers across the globe are designing safer equipment for everyone involved in the construction, maintenance, operation and demolition of substations, including the public.