Safety Mandates Changed For Construction Sites; Can BIM Help

Safety Mandates Changed For Construction Sites; Can BIM Help

We all know that sites are vulnerable to fall risks, environmental hazards, and electricity mishaps among others. In fact, a survey by National Health Institutes (USA), shows that 15% of the total expenditure by companies, goes to cover the cost of construction injuries. The survey also suggests that the construction industry has almost 70% higher nonfatal injuries than any other industry. No wonder, safety assurance for workers, contractors, and other personnel, have always been critically important for Construction Companies.

But the recent pandemic has made the situation even worse. Along with the existing risks at construction sites, there’s now the fear of COVID infection. State and local governments are allowing construction companies to resume their projects. However, measures like social distancing, contact tracing, consistent risk assessments have become necessary. These add to the caution overhead. Therefore, construction companies need to be aware of the new safety mandates at construction sites.

First, let’s clarify that there have always been existing mandates for assuring safety at construction sites. Risk awareness, training for laborers and contractors, strategic communication, protective gear all fall under this umbrella. Technologies like BIM (Building Information Modelling) have been helping construction companies comply with these mandates by allowing them to plan, track and monitor, and record better. It is also true that with safer sites and better plans, companies are also able to finish projects faster. 

Now, with a changed mandate at hand, it would be interesting to see how these tech solutions can continue to deliver value. 

Let us take a look at these changes and understand how technology can be aligned with them.

  • Social Distancing: Social Distancing has to be the topmost on this list. One can expect basic guidelines and norms to prevent physical proximity to already be in place. However, there will be some additional factors that the safety mandate will have to include. Managing surface transmission is one such example. The workers and contractors may come into indirect contact because of surface transmission from the tools and other goods that enter the site. Visits to the worksite will also have to be reduced. Even during an unavoidable visit, everyone involved should be mindful of the necessary safety measures. Any face-to-face contact might also need to be monitored as well as timed. Moreover, the work shifts will have to be planned such that the workforce can commute in off-peak hours. Fortunately, BIM allows various construction and design activities to be carried offsite. Experts can collaborate for such planning. BIM models will also help with pre-planning for the construction. This will help optimize resource requirements and help reduce the on-site crowd to the extent possible.
  • Work Accident Risk: With changes in shifts, and additional social distancing measures, the work accident risk might increase. Therefore, it is construction and installation plans must be devised more thoughtfully. Automated safety logistic checks can be run beforehand. This will allow the companies to understand the changed on-site risks. The BIM models, powered with local and retained knowledge, can help the companies customize the construction processes as per the site limitations. Thus, even before the project is ready, the contractors and the workers would be aware of the workplace risks and be able to devise suitable safety measures. With each site having its own limitations, safety mandates can be implemented accordingly.
  • Sanitization: This is an extension of the earlier point about surface transmission. The tools and surfaces will have to be regularly sanitized to avoid any such risks. Without a management and monitoring structure in place, this can lead to omissions and increased safety risks. The changed safety mandate would require the companies to devise a cost-effective sanitization plan. Regular deep cleaning might be needed. Provisions will have to be made so that every person or potentially infected surface entering the premises is properly sanitized. The construction companies can, potentially, integrate BIM with their existing decision support systems. This will help them understand and plan material arrivals and labor safety and sanitation measures (LSS). Knowing the number of resources that would need to be deployed in advance can also help companies plan sanitization effectively. 
  • Contract Tracing: Another big safety need would be to provide for contact tracing. This means, preventing transmission by tracing and assessing the areas and groups that could have been exposed to COVID. If a worker is tested positive, post joining the work, there might be other co-workers and their near ones who might be exposed to the virus. Applications are being developed to allow self-registration and better contact tracing of workers. This will help the companies to monitor their COVID-readiness. They can send suitable alerts in case of any exposure. Contact tracing protocols cannot be avoided especially at a high-risk place like a construction site. Technology can prove to be a big relief and allow construction companies to take more nuanced and targeted actions rather than close the entire site down.
  • Team Communication: Improper communication has always been a problem in a high-stress environment like construction sites. With the COVID situation, the stress has escalated manifold. Therefore, it is mandatory for employee safety that the tasks and processes are clearly communicated. Workers that might already be a little anxious about infections, sanitizations, etc., would not want to add to their cognitive load. Proper communication will help ease that burden. BIM essentially condenses much of the stress and fuss related to the job plans, before the work begins. With the help of clear models, companies can better define the upcoming tasks for all the contractors and workers. Therefore, the workplace would be a less stressful place.
  • Accident Investigation: The companies will have to be ready for any unfortunate events despite the above-discussed measures. This is an essential mandate that cannot be taken lightly. Provisions to investigate accidents and safety failures will have to be placed at all costs. BIM can help with emergency measures to deal with on-site accidents. It can also provide comprehensive and near real-time data on the site that can assist with analyzing why the accident occurred in the first place.

Projects cannot remain stalled forever. However, construction companies can’t also proceed without adequate safety measures. With newer physical and mental health concerns, the safety mandates will also be refreshed. Technology like BIM can be a powerful ally in this regard. Ultimately, safe workers would construct safer buildings.