BIM and the future of construction safety: How the use of BIM can lead to safer construction
The construction process extends well over time and implies juggling a variety of elements that need to be choreographed to the very last detail in order for a project to be successful: multiple contractors, personnel, equipment and client come together around a site, a timetable and a (usually limited) budget.
Construction companies have traditionally relied on the latest technologies to simplify their practices and streamline their processes: from online management platforms to digital design software, to the newest trends in materials science and land surveying equipment. But the development of Building Information Modeling (BIM), a methodology that is set to revolutionize the industry in the years to come, has brought immense benefits in terms of safe construction practices.
Whether BIM is used as an in-house asset or subcontracted to a specialized company, the degree of shared control over the design (and, therefore, over the entire process) mostly impacts the individuals who execute the work at the frontlines in terms of safety, with consequences for all parties involved.
What are safe construction practices?
Construction work is accident-prone: sharp objects, work-at-height conditions, temporary electrical connections and the presence of water can make up quite a dangerous mix. A construction site is said to have safe construction practices when the risk posed by potentially hazardous elements is positively reduced to the bare minimum—better planning, adherence to codes and reduction of uncertainty all contribute to minimizing the dangers inevitably involved in construction work.
BIM improves safety at the jobsite by reducing rework.
One of the major advantages of BIM is its capacity to generate accurate 3D visualizations of all the elements that will interact in the building—before, during and after construction. Clash detection, BIM’s mighty ability to identify colliding elements (plumbing, electrical, structural, to name just a few), allows tackling issues on the virtual model before construction is kicked off. This greatly reduces the need for rework, that is, work that needs to be redone when errors are detected too late or unforeseen circumstances arise that call for an element to be changed once it has already been built into place. This study analyzes the relationship between rework and recordable injury rates, and establishes that, since rework often implies demolition, it often has a negative impact on schedule and may lead to workers being hasty and favoring speed over safety.
BIM and 4D simulation
BIM enables the simulation of construction processes over time (also known as 4D simulation) and the analysis of potential safety risks. Through virtual mockups, construction teams can identify hazards, evaluate the safety of construction sequences, and test the emergency evacuation procedures in place. This allows for the implementation of other safety measures and performing adjustments to ensure a safer work environment for the crews. Where demolition is involved (in retrofitting, repurposing or renovation work), being able to figure out any inappropriate schedule sequences, resolving constructability-related issues, and identifying spatial or temporal discrepancies is an advantage that will certainly give construction companies an edge over the competition.
BIM improves communication and collaboration
BIM facilitates effective communication and collaboration among project stakeholders, including architects, engineers, contractors, and safety professionals. By sharing a common digital model that uses agreed upon standards, teams can coordinate their efforts, discuss safety concerns, and collectively develop strategies to enhance jobsite safety. In turn, this can lead to establishing comprehensive safety plans that take into account hazard zones, the location of safety equipment and the path of evacuation routes, as well as undertake joint training efforts to ensure the crews are familiar with the risks present at the jobsite and well-prepared to handle them.
Long-term building management using BIM
The foundation upon which the methodology is built (namely the existence of a virtual replica of the real-life building) allows incorporating equipment maintenance schedules, fire safety systems and data on other assets whose material deterioration over time implies that they will need to be duly addressed in order to function properly. Being able to keep track of these multiple elements in an automated fashion ensures that they will always be up to date so it is less likely that they will fail and cause a safety hazard.
Overall, thanks to enabled simulation capabilities, ease of communication, enhanced control over project details and long-term facility management, BIM can positively impact construction practices in terms of construction safety. In turn, this improves the numbers for the industry and offers a safer work environment for the crews that bring the ideas on paper to reality.