A tool for health and safety in every stage of the building lifecycle

Bim Lifecycle Article

Building Information Modelling (BIM) is increasingly viewed as a valuable tool in the design and construction phases of a building, including in supporting the health and safety needs of those involved. However, these phases represent only a fraction of a building’s life cycle, and involve only a small portion of the total number of people affected by the health and safety of the building. BIM can help to improve health and safety for far more people if it is used during the operation and maintenance and renovation phases, as well as the demolition and disposal phases. In fact, BIM can support health and safety throughout the entire building lifecycle, from inception to decommissioning.

BIM can benefit everyone involved in a building

While it is difficult to put a figure on just how many people are involved in a building at different stages during the building lifecycle, some estimates of lifecycle costs for commercial buildings provide an indication of the likely proportions, suggesting that 85% of the lifecycle cost of a facility occurs after construction is completed. To go one step further, the 1:5:200 ratio is a popular (though contested) rule of thumb that states that if the initial design and construction cost of a building is $1, the maintenance and operating costs over the years is equivalent to $5, but the salary spent on people working in that building will be $200.

Although these values have been widely contested, the message stands­­—the ongoing cost of operating a building over its lifetime exceeds the initial expenditure, and the cost to a business of the people using the building far outweighs both. In addition to those working within a business, other people affected by the health and safety of a building during its ongoing operation and maintenance include visitors to the building, staff who service and maintain it such as cleaners and maintenance workers, tradespeople and other workers involved in renovation and refurbishment.

BIM’s ability to store and display detailed information about the building and its components enables building managers and workers to access and visualise relevant data in a clear and intuitive way. They can use this data to identify and address potential health and safety issues, plan and schedule maintenance and repairs, and evaluate the impact of different scenarios and solutions. Associated technologies, such as reality capture with video and scanning, or sensors for monitoring building performance, can extend the applications of BIM to support a wider range of health and safety applications.

How BIM can boost health and safety in maintenance and operation

Facilities managers can use BIM to keep track of the condition of the building and identify areas that need repair or replacement. An as-built BIM model is a record of all of the elements that make up a building, and can include detailed information about the plant and equipment in use in the building, including the location of key components.  This knowledge can be useful to help Facilities Managers to plan the maintenance schedule and organising activities to avoid repeat access to the same area of a building, for example accessing a specific location to carry out a range of activities all at once rather than requiring multiple access over a period of time. 

By using BIM, building owners can plan and schedule maintenance and repairs, and evaluate the impact of different scenarios and solutions. For example, a model of a building that holds information on encapsulated asbestos allows any work planned to include necessary precautions, and makes sure there are no nasty surprises. It can also help the workers involved in repair and maintenance to safely access and work with building elements, and support them to have the equipment and parts needed to do the job once and do it right.

As we know, rework and unplanned activities are where many hazards lie, as workers try to make decisions with incomplete information or rush to catch up on lost time. By using BIM, Facilities Managers can ensure that workers have the necessary information to complete their tasks safely and efficiently, reducing the risk of accidents and unplanned activities.

Extending the application of BIM

Sensors connected to the BIM model can be used to monitor the performance of a building throughout its lifecycle, to support the health and well-being of building users. For example, sensors can be used to monitor the air quality inside a building and detect any pollutants or contaminants that may be present. If the air quality falls below a certain threshold, the sensors can alert building managers, who can take action to improve the air quality in that location and ensure that the environment remains safe for workers. Similarly, sensors can be used to monitor other factors such as temperature, noise or vibration, which all impact on worker health and safety.  By linking this information to the BIM model, data can be collected in one place to identify areas which have recurring problems or issues that come up repeatedly.

Emergency management can be facilitated using BIM, to provide information for those in the building and for emergency services or others responding in event of an emergency. Emergency scenarios can be simulated to test the effectiveness of emergency response plans, or to support training and preparation of building occupants. A BIM model can help improve the efficiency of an emergency response team and minimize safety risks to personnel by providing the location of critical building systems, such as fire suppression systems, and to provide access to building plans and other important information.

Further through the building life cycle

Renovation and refurbishment of a building falls within the maintenance and operation phase, but is essentially a new design and construction cycle within the life of the building. As such, all of the benefits of BIM for health and safety during those phases apply, such as the use of visualisation for more effective design coordination, improved project communication and better construction planning. However, for renovations, BIM may be more valuable at the project conception stage. Existing building conditions are represented in the as-built BIM model, allowing facility managers and building owners to be better-informed in their decision-making as project plans develop.

Similarly, at the end of a building’s life cycle, BIM can be used to support its deconstruction and demolition. Building owners can identify potential hazards in the demolition process, whether in terms of hazardous materials or components or challenging structural considerations, and develop plans to address them. This can help ensure that the decommissioning process is safe for all involved both involved in demolition and for those in the environment around the building. The information stored in a BIM model can also ensure the building materials are disposed of appropriately. It may also be valuable in terms of planned deconstruction for future reuse of building elements, to provide information for planning safe dismantling procedures.

Start with the end in mind

Perhaps the biggest challenge that prevents greater use of BIM for supporting health and safety during operation, maintenance and beyond is simply that its use in these stages is not recognised or planned for. Ensuring effective use of BIM in any stage of the building life cycle, starts with procurement. At the outset of a project, it is important that the downstream uses of BIM are considered and prepared for. The involvement of FM professionals is an important part of this process, to ensure that BIM applications provide the functionality required, and that models contain the information needed for the ongoing operation of the building, in a form that is accessible to the building users and managers.

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