About Safe-by-Design

Safe-by-Design is about including safety at the earliest possible stage of product and process development. The intention is to prevent environmental risks and to ensure a clean, healthy and safe living environment. Safe-by-Design forms part of the government’s environmental policy.

A clean, healthy and safe living environment
That is the government's mission. To fulfil the mission:

  • environmental and safety risks must be negligibly small
  • risks must be identified and addressed as early as possible
  • substances, materials, products and processes must be intrinsically safe (Safe-by-Design)

Among stakeholders, this requires a mindset that focuses on safety as an important design requirement and on interdisciplinary collaboration.

Better safe than sorry
Substances, materials and products have been developed in the past that created (and are still creating) problems to the environmental and human health. Plastic and asbestos are two examples. We want to prevent this from happening again. To do so, we need to design materials, products and processes that throughout their entire lifecycle do not pose risks to human health and the environment. We can achieve this by considering safety as early as possible in the innovation process. It is precisely at that stage that crucial choices are made about raw materials, processes, basic techniques and applications, while there is still time to make adjustments.

New safety awareness needed
Safe-by-Design means taking into account as much as possible in the design phase the safety of substances, materials, products and processes for human health and the environment. This necessitates a (new kind of) safety awareness and a different mindset among scientists and process and product developers, but also on the part of the management of companies, since they make the investment decisions.

Circular and sustainable
Safe-by-Design is a precondition for the circular economy. Everything you design and want to reuse must be safe for human health and for the environment. Safe-by-Design also plays a major role in sustainability. New sustainable developments, regardless of whether they concern (drinking) water, energy supplies, healthcare or the climate, may not cause risks either to human health or to the environment. A sustainable design is a safe design, everywhere, now and in the future.

Work in progress: coming on board?
Safe-by-Design needs to be developed further. We would like to do this together with parties that have a hands-on approach to innovation processes. Leading companies, including start-ups and established multinationals, research institutes and educational institutions. Partners who are working on or want to work on Responsible Research and Innovation, environmentally aware frontrunners who want to brainstorm with us on shaping Safe-by-Design together, and who wish to have a mutual exchange of knowledge and experiences: how can the government help companies with Safe-by-Design? Are you or do you know such a frontrunner? Let us know! 

Specific areas of attention
Safe-by-Design is already very attractive nationally and internationally for new and existing chemicals, nanomaterials and new applications of biotechnology. Together with other countries, the Netherlands wants to focus actively on the further development and application of Safe-by-Design. In the Netherlands, Safe-by-Design will enable fulfilment of our ambition to elevate the Dutch chemical/petrochemical industry to the safest in the world.

Safe design choices come first
Safe-by-Design seeks to make safety aspects a permanent consideration in design choices. What can go wrong with this design? Which materials and structures are potentially dangerous? How do I assess potential risks as quickly and effectively as possible? How can we modify the design to prevent these risks, for example by replacing, changing or reducing something? And if things do go wrong, how can we ensure that the damage will be limited?

The SafeChassis example: new, safer micro-organisms
In the SafeChassis project, researchers from Wageningen University & Research apply Safe-by-Design to synthetic biology, a branch of modern biotechnology in which properties of micro-organisms are radically altered. In SafeChassis researchers are trying to modify a bacterium, Pseudomonas putida, so that it can help to synthesize various products, from biofuels to pharmaceuticals. Safety risks are avoided by redesigning the bacterium in such a way that it can only survive under certain controlled conditions.

Integral policy
Through Safe-by-Design, the government wants to encourage researchers, designers and companies to take their responsibility in preventing risks. Policy aimed at managing risks through laws and regulations will remain fully in place. Safe-by-Design is therefore not separate from other policies aimed at a safe and healthy living environment. Like Risk policy that focuses on remediating past pollution, managing existing risks and preventing new ones. Safe-by-Design is aligned mainly with the latter goal, but can also facilitate better management of existing situations.

Safe-by-Design is closely related to government innovation policy, both for stimulating research and for stimulating companies

In case of new technological developments (such as nanotechnology and biotechnology), there is a need, in addition to the existing legal instruments and regimes, for complementary policy that is more easily adaptable to the speed and complexity of those developments. Safe-by-Design is precisely such a complement.