Despite major advancements in safety practices, construction remains one of the most dangerous American industries.
For construction companies to keep workers as safe as possible, technology like building information modeling (BIM) has become an essential investment over the past few years. As new technology makes building information analysis easier and more powerful, BIM is likely to become even more relevant to construction site safety.
This is how the industry is already taking advantage of the latest BIM tech to improve safety conditions on construction sites — plus, how new developments may shape the future of the industry and construction safety.
How BIM tools can reduce rework and revisions
In the industry, BIM use varies slightly from company to company. Across the sector, however, you can generally find companies using BIM primarily as a way to plan project logistics, ensure compliance with safety standards and company policy, or to simplify the construction process — potentially reducing site risks.
The biggest draw of BIM tools — their ability to generate 3D visualizations rather than conventional 2D diagrams — is also the technology’s most significant asset when it comes to improving safety. For construction companies exploring site safety technologies, the 3D visualizations BIM offers will provide certain advantages.
One of the most significant benefits of using BIM this way is that it can help a company cut down on rework and revisions. Rework is work that is done once and then needs to be done again, whether due to construction issues, oversights, or noncompliance with building code.
Rework is positively correlated with recordable job site injuries. This is likely because workers, when pushed by schedule delays, may try to work quickly through rework — and, as a result, be more willing to cut corners, move quickly, or skimp on safety measures to make deadlines.
Cutting down on unnecessary rework and revisions is one way for companies to save time and money while improving site safety.
Many BIM platforms include specialized tools to help building designers detect potential issues. For example, one common feature is clash detection, which will alert users to potential clashes between different building systems — like structures occupying the same space or spilling over into designated buffer zones, potentially making an area harder to navigate or noncompliant with regulations.
BIM tools also enable the use of certain prefabricated building materials and components. With BIM, contractors have a better sense of how prefabricated components can fit together on a job site. This reduces some of the risks that have led the construction industry to avoid prefabricated materials in the past.
Material handling can lead to slips, falls, and repetitive stress injuries — some of the top health risks on construction sites. Prefab parts reduce the overall material handling that’s necessary for a job — helping to cut down on the risk of injuries.
On-site adjustments with BIM platforms
Other BIM features help workers in the field adapt to conditions that make working with original plans difficult or impossible.
For example, some modern BIMs offer tools that make it easy for workers in the field to generate new visualizations based on site conditions — like Dynamic Wall Elevation in Procore BIM, which allows workers to quickly adjust elevations as needed. These workers can dynamically generate new elevations or 3D representations when site conditions don’t line up with the plan’s initial elevations.
Tools like these offer two major advantages. First, they keep workers from having to go back to the drawing board when they discover that on-site conditions are incompatible with an initial elevation. Second, they help prevent rework that can occur when conditions make original site plans unworkable or impractical.
These new visualizations can also be extremely helpful after construction wraps. Many companies use BIM for handover in addition to other steps in the design and construction process. If workers keep elevations and other building models or diagrams updated during the construction process, building owners will have the most accurate models possible.
Getting a bird’s-eye view of site safety with BIM
Modern BIM platforms are also incorporating tools and features built specifically to improve safety on the construction site.
Advanced safety modeling features can let building designers know of potential safety issues that may arise during construction. For example, a BIM tool may detect material handling sites that are too close to fire hydrants or structures. The same tool might also automatically note slopes that have insufficient landing areas for project equipment or other issues, like erosion and soil stability concerns.
If the site is close to a street or occupied lot, the tool may also be able to detect potential threats to pedestrians in adjacent public areas.
As BIM tech becomes smarter and incorporates Cloud technology, developers are also starting to include features that help supervisors and workers coordinate onsite. Some tools, for example, offer real-time visual updates on where all other BIM users are on the construction site — helping supervisors track and coordinate workers.
The same tools allow workers to quickly share information and analysis from their perspective, preventing miscommunications and making it easy to transfer BIM analysis from one tablet or device to another.
Future applications of BIM technology
New, Cloud-based features and Internet connectivity will likely be key for the future of BIM platforms.
With Cloud connectivity, it’s possible for devices to feed real-time information from the site to a BIM platform. This can allow supervisors and other workers to check on job progress, share information and coordinate effectively, regardless of location.
Some tools are already taking advantage of this tech — like tools that offer real-time updates on worker location or data sharing.
As Cloud adoption in the construction industry takes off, and technology like 5G makes Internet connectivity more practical while on a construction site, more complex features could be possible.
For example, a construction company might develop a model of a finished building that they can pass on to a building owner once construction is complete. With Cloud connectivity, this model could be regularly or automatically updated, providing facility managers with up-to-date information on building space, assets, and equipment status.
Integration of Artificial Intelligence-based analytics technology may also be key for the future of BIM. In December 2020, INDUS.AI, a provider of AI-powered construction safety monitoring technology, announced that it would develop new integration with AutoDesk’s BIM 360.
As a result, users of both platforms can directly take advantage of AI analysis from their BIM 360 dashboard.
If other BIM platforms pursue similar partnerships, it likely won’t be on individual companies or firms to pick up AI technology. Instead, industry leaders could slowly adopt new AI tech and find ways to integrate it into existing BIM platforms. Any company that uses BIM technology could find that they’re able to take advantage of the tech without significant changes to existing workflows — or, in some cases, the adoption of new tools.
The growing use of AI could change how companies collect and process building site data. For example, it may become possible for workers to capture visual information directly from the job site and process it in real-time to generate records and site updates.
How BIM has changed construction site safety
BIM tools can have a major impact on site safety. By helping prevent rework and improve site communication, the right tool or platform can help companies significantly reduce the likelihood of on-site injuries and accidents.
In the future, Cloud and AI technology are likely to make BIM tools even more useful. Soon, companies wishing to take advantage of the latest developments may not even need to switch away from the tools they already use.