Safety for the Construction Industry: Are we Building it Up enough?
The bricks of any building, bridge, or any piece of infrastructure are laid by construction workers. No matter how advanced the technologies are involved on site or how efficient are the materials and processes deployed, the quality of construction will continue to depend significantly on the people who work on site. Naturally, it is the responsible of construction companies, firm owners, project managers, builders, architects, contractors, suppliers, and other such stakeholders to take care of the health and safety of the people working on site.
Healthy, Safety, Environment (HSE) standards have been much discussed, but unfortunately, the construction industry globally has traditionally scored rather low on this parameter. A high number of fatalities, injuries and illnesses are reported from all/most construction sites. It is common knowledge in this industry that the construction is fraught with risks such as harmful chemicals, loud noise, handling heavy loads or hazardous materials, potential of injuries such as cuts, falls or electric shocks. These risks make it essential to audit and upgrade the HSE parameters of any construction site.
Research also suggests that the construction industry is saturated with traditional injury-prevention strategies and demands a new approach to safety innovation. Experts suggest that the most effective form of safety program management can be done at the planning and pre-construction phases of a project. Here’s where Building Information Modelling (BIM) comes into the picture. Globally, BIM has often been leveraged for better design, improved stakeholder communication, enhanced productivity gains, logistics and supply chain management, cost estimation and analysis but most BIM users haven’t really explored it enough for health and safety.
The HSE performance of a construction site can be managed at the following levels:
- Planning and Assessment of Risks – To begin with, construction managers should identify potential HSE hazards, their likelihood of occurrence, severity, impact, what deserves immediate attention and what is anticipated for future. At this stage, BIM can be used for worker safety, training and education, designing and planning for safety, falling prevention, planning the right materials, processes and systems, visualization and simulation of high-risk activities. For example, 3D visualization can be used to check crane reach and capability in construction work, or to examine the risks in case of load fall or to evaluate what the crane jib could hit. BIM and the digital environment could also be used intelligently to initiate a cultural change on the site basis the onsite safety data. Companies in UK introduced a Construction, Design and Management (CDM) coordinator at the design stage of construction projects. The introduction of the CDM role has contributed to the ‘safe by design’ principle and a drastic drop in the fatalities in UK construction sector.
- Risk Control and Prevention – Using of personal protective equipment (PPE), training and capacity management of construction workers, using appropriate equipment and setting the right processes, eliminating hazards and enforcing regular breaks are few necessary actions that must follow the assessment phase. Some companies see these steps as additional expenses but the cost of completing any project without any reported incidents is perhaps several times lower than the costs associated with accidents such as workers’ compensation, medical expenses, material and equipment damage and legal services. Accidents can also lead to indirect costs such as hiring replacement staff and implementing corrective measures. A UK study found that companies save up to £3 for every £1 invested in accident. Besides, the impact of losing human lives can hardly be computed in monetary terms. In 2018 alone, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2.8 million work injuries and illnesses, and 5,147 fatalities.
BIM can be smartly leveraged for integrating high HSE standards, ensuring compliance as per local regulations, cost estimates of the right materials, tools and processes, accident investigation and designing for prevention of accidents. BIM can help with ensuring safety by simulation of vehicles, equipment and movement of people at the construction site. Using BIM models, material movement can be simulated through challenging areas of a building under construction while complete avoidance of accidents. Optimized locations for cranes and material storage can also be planned using BIM models.
- Review of Health and Safety Management Processes – Adequate implementation of accident prevention strategies by onsite workers, periodic maintenance of site equipment and work area, enforcing compliance of safety-critical features at all times, safe handling of materials, updating policies and procedures, evaluation of risk exposure and monitoring the effectiveness of HSE measures are a few of the actions that construction project managers and site owners must undertake. Here, BIM can actively help with facility management, site surveillance, safety reviews during construction, higher clarity in safety related communication among stakeholders and more. What if scenario analysis, optimized options for vehicle movements, etc can be setup as processes that are part of the HSE management plans and can be done using digital BIM models.
Technology will have a critical role to play in improving the HSE standards of the construction industry. For example, wearable technology can be used to track workers individually in project sites, at all times. When they step into a dangerous area, such as the swing radius of a crane in operation, they can be alerted with an immediate audiovisual notification. Technology can also be used to gather site data more effectively with digital formats, and this includes faster access to information about workplace risks.
We, at Excelize, highly recommend extracting higher value from BIM models by leveraging it for establishing the highest HSE standards possible. It is only prudent to put in the right policies, standards and procedures in place for ensuring a zero-incident construction project while striving for high quality and productivity.