Construction companies have been reaping the benefits of BIM for a while now, highlighting its advantages in terms of cost-saving, improving project delivery deadlines, and producing better buildings overall, but what about its impact on health and safety?
Working in construction is notoriously demanding and comes with many health risks, so it’s no surprise that injuries and illnesses are a common occurrence! In this article, we will discuss the challenges of health and safety within the industry and what effects BIM can have to improve the safety culture of construction.
The health and safety challenges of the construction industry
Workplace safety has always been a major challenge within the construction industry. Between 2019-2021 there were over 59,000 reported non-fatal work-related injuries, and potentially many more unreported! This figure represents around 3% of all construction staff who suffered a workplace injury, significantly higher than other major industries.
You’ll often find on construction sites health and safety information, as well as incident reporting and risk assessment forms commonly stored in big piles of folders, on complex spreadsheets or scattered across various emails between relevant departments. This might work well for smaller construction companies with limited teams, but for major projects with hundreds of workers and thousands of risks, it’s simply not adequate enough!
By all means, health and safety is an important part of the day-to-day construction project but somehow it never quite feels like the number 1 priority! Approaching deadlines, lack of adequate training, and cost-cutting measures can all have negative effects on health and safety practices. So how can it be improved?
Building information modeling has certainly influenced many areas of construction, with governments even mandating the use of BIM on public sector projects. Benefits can undoubtedly be seen concerning time and cost management but it can also have a positive effect on health and safety!
Ways in which BIM improves health and safety
We all know that BIM has the power to make our lives easier in more ways than one! We use it to accurately estimate costs, complete projects on time, and increase productivity. However, to ensure all of this happens seamlessly, construction safety and worker safety need to be maximised! BIM can offer solutions to safety issues like never before. We’ve highlighted some of the most significant ways it can do this!
BIM creates a detailed visual model of the construction-site
BIM does exactly what it says in its name! It creates a 3d building model which enables engineers, architects, and construction crews to visualise their structure long before a brick has ever been laid. The advantages of this technology are endless, but regarding health and safety in the workplace, they are highly significant!
Being able to virtually walk through the building before construction gives managers adequate time to plan for potential safety hazards and health risks. One could argue that many work-related injuries are unforeseen and accidental, especially within construction. However, as BIM gives users the ability to anticipate a hazard long before it happens, there are no excuses!
Whatsmore, appropriate safety information can be updated and added to the 3d digital models at any time. It acts as a real-time, live safety program for workers and crews, from the beginning to the end of the project! Anyone new coming into the team who may not be familiar with the site conditions can get up to speed quicker and in more detail using the models.
BIM provides an all-in-one solution
All of the data stored within BIM is accessed by project teams in one centralised space. BIM’s digital data model has transformed paper-based recordkeeping into a useful 4d visualisation that can be updated, studied, and shared at all times! This allows teams from every department to be fully up-to-date with all safety concerns and health risks. There can be no miscommunication errors or lapses in judgement as BIM has calculated all the necessary data!
Furthermore, BIM automatically improves safety management! The folders full of health administration forms, risk-assessments and incident reports will soon become obsolete as they can all be stored within the informational model. Workplace accidents can be quickly investigated and prevented from occuring again in the future. By having all the health and safety data stored in one place it enables architects, engineers and construction teams to create a safety culture within a construction site!
Improves communication between project teams
One of the biggest shortcomings of the construction industry is communication! Errors in communication are costly and can lead to needless expenses, project delays, and unfortunately, health and safety issues. However, the power of BIM is here to combat this very issue! Its model actively promotes effective collaboration between all stakeholders involved in the project.
The effects of this can be seen across many areas. Timelines and cost estimating are more accurate, the number of reworks decreases, and project deadlines are agreed upon and completed on schedule. This is down to the fact that all teams have access to a single set of plans. Changes can be suggested and altered instantly. BIM provides a ‘single source of truth for teams to work with!
This is no different when applied to health and safety! Hazard communication and site-specific safety training can be efficiently put into practice using the previously constructed 3d models. Any changes to processes or safety procedures can be reported to site managers instantly and subsequently implemented by their crews. The accurate data stored within the BIM models ensure beyond doubt that every site will comply with national safety regulations!
Lowers risk of injury after project completion
BIM is not only a model used during the design and construction phases. It is a live dataset that can be viewed and updated throughout the entire life cycle of a structure! Building managers can identify maintenance issues and make necessary renovations using the original 3d models.
This also means that once the project has come to an end and the keys have been handed over, BIM essentially becomes a health and safety management system! Workplace accidents can be minimised and even prevented using the BIM models. Fire-safety procedures can be easily maintained and updated when necessary and detailed safety inspections can be routinely carried out to ensure a safer working environment.
Workers are better prepared
As BIM improves training, scheduling accuracy, and the visibility of hazards, the workers themselves become better prepared in their jobs and can quickly identify health and safety risks! BIM has the ability to analyze each specific task and determine the safest way to perform it. As well as creating a safer working environment this can even upskill construction crews and increase productivity within a project.
Improvement in mental health
The broader picture of health and safety includes much more than physical wounds and injuries. A crucial factor that often gets overlooked within the construction industry is how stress and mental health illnesses impact safe working!
A construction worksite is an incredibly fast-paced, high-stress environment, especially in today’s climate with quicker deadlines and pressure to deliver results at the highest standards. It’s no surprise that workers become overwhelmed and need time off!
Even though mental health awareness can be a complex subject, BIM can have a positive impact here also! It clearly defines each worker’s roles and responsibilities and the appropriate amount of time it takes to complete each task. This ultimately reduces the workload on each employee and improves overall productivity. The accuracy in scheduling coupled with improved communication from management also ensures teams aren’t over-worked and can carry out tasks with better focus and less risk!
What is the future of BIM and workplace safety?
First of all, it’s important to realize that BIM is not a cure for workplace injuries. It shouldn’t be viewed as an accident prevention device. BIM is more than just a set of models that can save a bit of cash. It’s about creating a philosophy of safe working that can have a positive impact on teams and ultimately overall projects!
There continues to be some pushback regarding the implementation of BIM though, with many questioning its relevance and genuine validity. Some consider it too expensive or complex to integrate, however, BIM is only just getting started! Its advantages are being felt across all areas of construction and it continues to develop as technology advances. We’ve tackled some important misconceptions about BIM in our most recent article here! [insert link to misconception article]
Regarding health and safety, the benefits we’ve outlined above are just a small number of ways that BIM can have a positive effect. One example of how BIM will further develop safer working environments is with the advancements in AI technology. Architects, engineers and construction managers will soon be able to virtually walk through their buildings and see the hazards first-hand, long before any physical work has taken place! The power of BIM is being realized across the world! As countries such as the UK and Denmark are now mandating its use within certain public projects, there’s no doubt that more and more will soon follow!