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Risk Assessment as Standard Work in Design

February 2016
EBD Journal Club


Morrill, P. W. (2013). Risk assessment as standard work in design. Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 7(1), 114-123.


Objective: This case study article examines a formal risk assessment as part of the decision making process for design solutions in high risk areas. The overview of the Failure Modes and Effects Analysis (FMEA) tool with examples of its application in hospital building projects will demonstrate the benefit of those structured conversations. 

Background: This article illustrates how two hospitals used FMEA when integrating operational processes with building projects: (1) adjacency decision for Intensive Care Unit (ICU); and (2) distance concern for handling of specimens from Surgery to Lab. 

Methods: Both case studies involved interviews that exposed facility solution concerns. Just-in-time studies using the FMEA followed the same risk assessment process with the same workshop facilitator involving structured conversations in analyzing risks. 

Results: In both cases, participants uncovered key areas of risk enabling them to take the necessary next steps. While the focus of this article is not the actual design solution, it is apparent that the risk assessment brought clarity to the situations resulting in prompt decision making about facility solutions. 

Conclusions: Hospitals are inherently risky environments; therefore, use of the formal risk assessment process, FMEA, is an opportunity for design professionals to apply more rigor to design decision making when facility solutions impact operations in high risk areas. 

Keywords: Case study, decision making, hospital, infection control, strategy, work environment