Safer construction working environment: BIM (Building Information Modelling) Safety Risk Library

Impact: Awareness and understanding, Economic, Health and wellbeing, Policy, Technological

Narrative

Occupational safety and health play a critical role in ensuring decent work for individuals. However, significant challenges persist in safeguarding the well-being of workers across various industries. Construction work continues to be hazardous due to its working environments and the high risks involved. In the UK alone, the construction industry accounted for about 81,000 work-related injuries or illnesses in 2020. This highlights the pressing need for enhanced measures and interventions to address the risks and improve safety conditions within the industry and beyond.

The Manchester research team led by Dr William Collinge has been jointly delivering the Discovering Safety Programme, funded by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, to prevent people from being harmed at work through better-informed and cost-effective interventions. Working closely with Health and Safety Executive (UK regulator for health and safety at work), and industry partners including Atkins, AstraZeneca, Heathrow Airport and Multiplex, the Manchester team is using cutting-edge data and analytical techniques to identify the opportunities and challenges for digitalisation to shape our working environment, where accidents can be predicted and therefore prevented.

Through the Thomas Ashton Institute, a research institute established between HSE and Manchester University, the team has been contributing to projects under the Discovering Safety programme, including the Building Information Modelling (BIM) Safety Risk Library project. The BIM Safety Risk Library is a new digital tool designed, developed, and launched for the construction industry to make health and safety data available to designers, contractors and all relevant stakeholders engaged in a construction project. At the core of the library is a database of risk scenarios and treatments, accessible and open to further addition by designers and engineers working on their models in 3D BIM environments. Traditionally, construction designs are often completed with little or no input from the people who build the project on-site and those who have specific knowledge and methods of risk assessment. This new tool fills the critical information gap by integrating health and safety information into visualisation software and BIM tools throughout the design process. It supports the rationale behind “safe by design” which provides opportunities for risks to be mitigated through elimination, substitution or by engineering control at the design stages of a project rather than over reliance on measures implemented once construction operations have started, which tend to be less effective and more expensive.

Applying open research practices, the research made active use of health and safety data from the HSE archive, with 70,000 plus reports submitted every year under the Reporting of Incidents, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR), about 130 of which involve fatalities. Industry partners also used their own information to further populate the risk library with risk scenarios - treatments for the risk scenarios being sourced from openly available regulatory guidance, engagement with industry professionals through a series of industry workshops, and active use of the digital tool by designers and engineers working on construction projects. The Risk Library facilitates an open sharing of data by companies and government regulators at a national level and is a positive step forward for the construction industry – a sector beset by fragmentation and silo working. Throughout the research process, close engagement and communication with the construction industry was fundamental: this engagement manifested itself through the establishment of an expert Steering Committee, industry workshops, collaborative agreements between partners and other activities.

The BIM Safety Risk Library is at the forefront of construction prevention through design (PtD) research regarding the provision of a digital solution for improving construction health and safety. It has been adopted by several leading construction organisations on their live construction projects, positively changing working practices and processes. It has also been used in sectors outside construction, including the pharmaceutical industry, such as AstraZeneca. The Safety Risk library, together with the associated SafetiBase Risk Suggestion Tool enables virtual collaboration on the 3D Repo cloud platform, was the recipient of several industry awards, including buildingSMART Award for Professional Research in 2020, Construction Computing Award for Health and Safety Software in 2021, and was shortlisted for Building Innovation Awards for Best Health and Safety Innovation in 2022.
Category of impactAwareness and understanding, Economic, Health and wellbeing, Policy, Technological
Impact levelAdoption

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Digital Futures
  • Thomas Ashton Institute