Visual innovation

We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, and that a visual graphic is way more effective in conveying information than sentences on a page.  But have we asked ourselves how effective is the whiteboard at the gate at communicating the safety risks on a construction site? How many workers give it more than a quick glance as they walk on by? How often is it updated as conditions on the site change? Does it really communicate what the risks are to those workers with English as a second language or with low reading levels? 

Imagine instead a large TV screen, with a computer model of the actual site as it looks today, with red flags highlighting general site risks, images showing positions of mobile plant and their exclusions zones, and areas where critical risk work is being carried out. 

Imagine a worker looking at a tablet and seeing the work he must do at height, and discussing how best to carry out that work safely rather than making those decisions while suspended in the air? Imagine clash detection, overlapping duties, and sub-contractor lay-down areas all being viewed and discussed within a computer model before any work is started.  

This is the future as imagined by BIMSafe NZ. 

Changing the game 

BIMSafe NZ is a three-year collaboration between the Canterbury Safety Charters’ Professional Services Working Group and the Building Innovation Partnership at the University of Canterbury. The project is funded by ACC and MBIE, with a large proportion of in-kind contributions from industry professionals. 

BIMSafe NZ aims to change the way risks are identified, managed, and communicated on construction sites – using the visualisation and communication powers of 3D computer models. 

Using BIM (Building Information Modelling) as an effective tool for communicating risk is a cornerstone of the project. A BIM model is a three-dimensional computer representation of a project. It’s increasingly being used in large and medium vertical and horizontal construction projects. Currently all government facilities projects over $5 million are now mandated to use a BIM model, and more construction companies have a digital engineering capability. 

BIM has mostly been used extensively in the design phase by architects and engineers. Here they can work on a project collaboratively and see how one aspect interacts with others. The model then represents a single source of truth for the project. The entire construction, use, and demolition of a facility can be examined through a timeline. The visualisation powers of the model allow a more effective health and safety by design process to be undertaken and recorded in the model.  

New technology for safety 

The project has three workstreams. The first is to develop best practice guidelines for the integration of health and Safety into BIM. The second is to trial the use of the guidelines and provide feedback during a live construction project. The third stage is to promote to industry the results of the project and the use of the guidelines.  

The BIMsafe project can also be seen as the start of a bigger change in increasing the use of technology in health and safety. Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) also provide opportunities for greater visualisation and communication of risk.  

Imagine a maintenance worker wearing a set of AR goggles and being able to visualise the services behind a wall. Imagine being able to train workers in a virtual environment before work commences. Imagine geo-location being used to create exclusion zones around mobile plant. 

All these things are possible now. 

BIMSafe NZ has the potential to be a game changer in the way risks are identified, managed, and communicated on construction sites. 

Paul Duggan is general manager of the Canterbury Safety Charter. 

QUESTION: Paul Duggan suggests BIMSafe is an example within construction of other highly visual computer-driven safety interventions, such as using geo-location to create exclusion zones around mobile plant.
Do you anticipate embracing such high-tech solutions within the next 2 or 3 years?
If so, for what purpose?
If not, why not?

Tell us what you think and go in the draw to win a book prize!