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  • Writer's pictureStefan Mordue

BIM Doesn't need to be Hi-Tech to make construction safer

As the Government’s BIM Level 2 mandate approaches, it is worth reminding ourselves what this is trying to achieve. The initial construction strategy issued five years ago, which announced the intention to require 3D collaborative BIM on all centrally procured Government projects by 2016, focused on key objectives such as efficiency, value for money and the overarching aim to reduce costs to Government construction projects by 15–20%. In its original form, health and safety was not mentioned once.

The Construction 2025 Strategy that followed in July 2013 also set tough targets. The UK industry was urged to build cheaper and faster, be kinder to the planet and reduce the export-import trade gap. But Construction 2025 also included a vision for an ‘industry that attracts and retains a diverse group of multi-talented people, operating under considerably safer and healthier conditions, that has become a sector of choice for young people inspiring them into rewarding professional and vocational careers’.

Although the strategy didn’t go into detail on how this was going to be achieved, it did highlight BIM as a key driver.

Since publishing BIM for Construction Health and Safety, I have noticed that discussions around BIM increasingly include its potential for health and safety risk management. Contractors are already demonstrating how BIM can be used in this context, but the best form of health and safety risk prevention starts with the designers. Under the CDM2015 Regulations, the Principal Designer (PD) is responsible for planning, managing, monitoring and coordinating health and safety in the pre-construction phase, when design decisions can have the most significant influence on a project. The PD plays a vital role in identifying, eliminating or controlling foreseeable risks.

In its simplest form, Health and Safety Design Risk Management is about designing out risk – something the APS knows all about – and it is here that BIM can really help.

There have been many attempts to automate the process over the years, but risk assessment and management is a skill. Analysis of risk in the construction industry is not reliant on logic or clever mathematics but on predictions driven by experience. What BIM can facilitate is that information is close to hand when the risk assessment is being carried out.

While techniques such as 4D sequencing and simulations are very useful tools for health and safety, less technologically advanced techniques can be just as powerful – for example, by showing information graphically so it can be understood by all. Or simply recording hazards and decisions on risk in a structured way using open standards for transferring data such as Construction Operation Building information exchange (COBie).

The Government’s chosen open source scheme, COBie, is simply a method for arranging data in the most suitable way to support the Client. Think of it as a big spreadsheet, but using the COBie ‘Issues’ tab or column can also provide the designer with the opportunity to record information such as ‘risk’ (risk rating), ‘chance’ (risk assessment) and ‘Impact’ (risk consequence) in a structured way that can then be shared within the design team.

Other simple approaches include recording identified risks using another open standard, Industry Foundation Classes (IFC), which incorporates the buildingSMART IFC4 Property set ‘Pset Risk’, or highlighting information by tagging it within a BIM object so that it can be communicated graphically (eg: colour-coded), but non-graphical information and attributes can also be scheduled and risks and hazards easily located.

These techniques are not overly ambitious, but they are practical steps that can be applied here and now. The industry must not get bogged down in technology – BIM is a behavioural change more than anything else. Sharing information at agreed strategic points with the whole design team in the same structure, style and format doesn’t have to be rocket science, but it can take us many steps closer to the safer construction industry that Construction 2025 anticipates, and all of us involved in the health and safety journey are passionately committed to achieving.

This article first appeared in the APS Digest 02

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