The Importance of Visual and Safety Access in the Construction Industry

According to Vision Australia Foundation “It is estimated that there are approximately 400,000 people living in Australia with legal blindness or low vision. This number is expected to double in the next 20 years, as a result of the ageing population.” And it is not just the vision impaired individuals in our community that are protected by hazard and directional indicators, 4.5 Million people across the world benefit from the correct application of visual and tactile indicators. These include people in the community with cognitive or sensory processing disorders, learning impairments, those with anxiety or who have suffered from a stroke, and even guide dogs who all use these indicators to safely navigate our communities in their day to day lives.

Visual and safety access is an aspect of design in domestic and commercial buildings that can be often overlooked, even those with the best intentions may not correctly interpret the standards or unintentionally apply the indicators incorrectly. Architects and builders are met with the moral obligation to install effective and clear surface indicators, meeting the BCA and AS1428 whilst complying with the aesthetics of the overall design.

An access consultant will be able to advise you on not only with your compliance to standards but also how your intended design will function in a practical application. We would highly recommend engaging with an access consultant as early in the design as possible to ensure the best possible outcome and allow all members of the community to safely access your final structure equally.

Two of the common ways that safety indicators are underutilised or poorly applied are luminance contrast and incorrect placement:

Luminance Contrast:
The Australian Standard 1428.4 requires a minimum of 30% high luminance contrast between most indicators and the surrounding surface, this includes indicators such as stair nosing, visual indicators on glazed panels and tactile surface indicator tiles. Interestingly for the single-coloured individual TGSI cones, a 45% contrast is required and 60% contrast for two colours or materials used for individual TGSI cones. This allows them to be easily identified for those who are vision impaired. Whilst this would seem quite straight forward, issues with contrast luminance is one of the most commonly seen issues with compliance as varying conditions are not taken into consideration.

When measuring contrast and luminance it important to reflect on how these indicators will appear in sunny, wet and overcast conditions. It is not just a matter of comparing saturation, you must consider how the material will reflect light when wet, dry and practically speaking even exposed to some degree of dirt. Taking these factors into consideration, it must be applied across a vast array of access products such as tactile ground surface indicators, stair nosing and visual indicators on glass or glazed panelling or doors to ensure those with low vision are able to safety navigate hazards and reduce the risk of personal injury.

Incorrect placement or absence of placement:
The complete absence of visual and safety access indicators poses a huge risk to those in the community who rely on these markers to guide themselves independently and safely, but almost equally as dangerous can be their incorrect placement. It is incredibly important that indicators are not just thrown into as an afterthought to meet codes and standards but are correctly utilised to perform the function that is intended.

Without the consultation and approval of an access consultant, direction indicators have been seen to lead to nowhere or direct those with blindness/low vision into potentially dangerous situations. It is also often seen that hazard indicators will be incorrectly placed and warn for a hazard that is not there, indicate a hazard is in a different direction and that is if the indicators are present at all.

With stairs as an example, stair nosing must be placed at the leading edge of each and every stair to indicate that there is a declining number of steps; the absence of this nosing is very dangerous for members of our community with low vision as the staircase without the brightly contrasting nosing could appear as a ramp or continued pathway. Equally, if the nosing is only placed on the leading stair or ending stair it would almost completely prevent the safe navigation up and down the staircase.

As it currently stands, visual and safety access can often be unintentionally neglected, misapplied or underutilised. At CE we would like to do our part to change this trend through education and helping the industry move towards making access better integrated into design. With the support of architects, builders and Access consultants we hope to contribute to a more inclusive, practical and accessible Australia.

We would also recommend accessing the following resources for more information: