Built environment codes and standards: an oft-overlooked determinant of the public’s health

Media release from Public Health Association of Australia

6 April 2017

pha Public health discussion about the built environment often focuses on factors such as walkability, green spaces, liveability and transportation, yet overlooks the fact that most of the world’s population spends the greatest amount of their time in buildings, and that as a result the codes influencing their design, construction, operation and use are key determinants of health.

This issue will be addressed at the 15th World Congress on Public Health 2017, where over 2500 international delegates are gathered to share research, knowledge and ideas about public health, including its social determinants.

“Standards that govern design and construction regularly affect our health, security, safety, accessibility and wellbeing” said James Chauvin, former Director of Policy at the Canadian Public Health Association who sits on the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes.

Despite this fact, the general public and public health advocates have been absent from deliberations about built environment standards and model codes (e.g., building, fire, plumbing) and their implementation as law and regulations.

Reasons for this include a reluctance to get involved due to either a lack of understanding or negative perceptions about the procedures used for developing model codes and standards, lack of awareness about how these codes affect public health, different metrics used by the building and health sectors, and difficulties in producing code-related health impact assessments (HIA) due in part to lacking and incomplete data.

“Public health professionals can play key roles at all levels, effectively influencing built environment issues and built environment law, bringing the best evidence and the best practices to inform decision-making about model code development, implementation and application” said Mr Chauvin.

It is also important to ensure there are cross-disciplinary discussions between economists and engineers about basic tools such as risk assessment and cost-benefit, as there is a common concern about the need for evidence-based decision making regarding built environments.

Peter Johnson, Principal of Fire Safety Engineering at the global consulting engineering, development and design company Arup in Melbourne explained, “What we hope to do is engage the global public health community to work with other sectors for improved evidence-based advocacy to move codes development from a ‘minimum standards’ approach to a ‘best practice’ approach.”

Mr Chauvin, Mr Johnson and Dr. Ted R. Miller (Principal Research Scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Maryland, USA) will share their views on this issue at the World Congress on Public Health 2017 during Oral Session 94 (Built Environments) on Thursday, April 6.

For media enquiries please contact James Chauvin at jamesbchauvin@gmail.com or Peter Johnson on +61 417 548 896 or  Peter.Johnson@arup.com