BIM-based design improves considerably the safety of a building over its life cycle – from the construction phase to the maintenance of the occupied building. When standards and regulations are defined by programs, inspection and design may in the future be automatic at all phases of work, says Research Scientist  Kristiina Sulankivi at VTT Technical Research Centre.

BIM has generally been thought to bring savings mainly by streamlining the work process, reducing waste, and eliminating errors. Yet, as significant savings can also be achieved through improved occupational safety: after all, a quarter of all work-related fatal accidents in Finland occur at construction sites – mainly as a result of falls from heights. The study on BIM-based safety inspections and planning that was part of the RYM Oy BIMCON work package investigated this issue. The results were encouraging and create good preconditions for commercialization.

For instance, the planning and modeling of a safety system to prevent falls and related 4D scheduling require a lot of man-hours which is why automation allows substantial savings. An existing prototype tool that can identify risky site locations and provides appropriate protections for them has been developed further on the basis of a Finnish case study.  Simplified or quite highly detailed instructions for the appropriate structure of safety railings can be provided based on the user’s needs.

The prototype makes use of the Tekla Project Status Visualization tool. It enables visualization of safety plans at various phases of construction as well as presentation of the model, permanent and temporary building elements, and safety equipment.

The prototype has great potential of becoming a key tool of the safety plan prepared jointly by the production planner, the contractor and the structural engineer. Modeling rules related to safety need to be developed further and the number of safety equipment alternatives increased prior to its field testing.

– A software developer could commercialize the prototype based on identified industry needs and best practices, and eventually integrate it into a BIM-based modeling or model checking software, Sulankivi emphasizes.

Safety saves time and money

An example of the significance of timely safety planning for construction site costs in the United States:

Inspection of the model designed by an architect revealed the need to put dozens of eyebolts in a certain railing for attaching safety equipment. The equipment was used for a certain period, was then dismantled as unnecessary, and the bolts were taken out spending a lot of time and effort. The whole process could have been easily avoided had the architect designed the railing a little less than two inches higher.

The same principle also applies to finished buildings since safety equipment is also needed by maintenance people.

BIM also brings savings by making scheduling and workflow more sensible – the only aim should not be to avoid medical expenses. When the model can be rotated on the display as desired, all interested parties can easily be shown the right places, and safety equipment can be installed where needed at the appropriate time. Unnecessary work is also avoided – especially if the model automatically inspects and plans: Manual inspection is both slow and error-prone!

BIM changes our approach to safety. In the future, BIM-based safety planning is bound to be part of construction planning providing great opportunities for software developers.