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BIM’s H&S role on High Speed 2

Phil Downes looks at how it is producing a transformational approach to occupational health management.

The push for the use of BIM processes and technology for all government infrastructure projects by 2016 is going to have a far-reaching impact across the entire construction industry – and nowhere is that more clear than High Speed 2.

As we all know, BIM requires the creation of a single, central digital design model for a construction project that is shared by all consultants on a project.

BIM Level 2 moves a step beyond this requirement and produces a lifelong data model – captured from the design process – that provides the base data for all decisions through both construction and operation.

HS2 will be the first major public infrastructure project in the UK to use BIM Level 2 from the outset of design.

The technology is obviously transforming projects worldwide – centralising and opening up reams of data that previously sat separately and were difficult to integrate.

This means that design conflicts can be identified at an early stage, logistical and procurement processes become more accurate, and potential health and safety issues can be removed or mitigated.

Challenge of scale

For the team working on HS2, the challenge in using BIM Level 2 from the outset of the project has been one of scale.

The proposed scheme is huge – around 230 km of railway in the first phase alone – and as a result there are a huge number of different consultants working on the project.

This means that it will take a tremendous amount of collaborative effort to ensure that BIM processes are built into ‘business as usual’ practice across the entire supply chain.

The use of BIM on the project has opened up new avenues for experimentation and exploration in specific areas of design and management best practice.

Following years of dedicated work from stakeholders across the construction industry, workplace accidents are at an all-time low.

The introduction of BIM has already had a notable impact, capturing key safety risks early on in the design process.

However, the industry loses many more working days due to workplace-induced chronic ill health than to workplace injury (in 2014, 1.7m due to ill health and 592,000 due to injury).

To date, the work done on implementing occupational health processes into BIM models has been limited.

Pioneering H&S approach

Capita and its JV partner Ineco has been working on a pioneering research and development project in our delivery of the ‘Country North’ section of HS2, developing a strategy to incorporate occupational health issues from the very start of the project.

The basic concept is that any occupational health issue is flagged during the BIM process.

This could include issues such as a requirement to use heavily vibrating construction equipment, or exposure to a potentially dangerous substance.

We want to build a data model showing where health risks emerge during both construction and operation of the project.

Such an approach allows for these to be recognised early in the design process so they can be acted upon, thus minimising those risks through the project lifecycle.

For example, when registering the operation of drilling concrete, the system will alert the designer to all the attendant health issues, such as dust and vibration.

The system will provide advice and direction on how to avoid these issues using alternate design approaches or implementing mitigations.

These captured actions and issues are delivered to the health design expert so that they can provide early intervention and further advice to the specific situation, allowing mitigation and early close-out of the risk.

This is a new approach to occupational health, as it removes the risk in the first place, rather than mitigating it during construction and operation.

We are aiming to develop an intelligent solution that can help to bring best practice through from the design stage.

Capture and flag health risks

The first stage of this project involved working with stakeholders, such as HS2 and the Constructing Better Health scheme, to establish how to best capture and flag health risks in BIM processes.

We are now working on the second stage, incorporating this data into a streamlined process.

This will ensure that this information will be at the fingertips of any people that require it during the entire lifecycle of the project: from designers and construction staff to those operating the rail system in 10 years’ time.

The sheer scale of HS2 means that the project comes with unique difficulties, but also the opportunity to drive forward best practice for the construction and rail industries.

Our research work will make a real difference to workplace health on the HS2 project – and has the potential to transform occupational health management across the construction and rail sectors if introduced on a wide-enough scale.

Phil Downes is a director of infrastructure at Capita

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