We know that Building Information Modelling (BIM) has great potential to support and improve health and safety processes and outcomes within the construction industry. International literature and practice, as well as local examples, provide evidence of the value of BIM to many aspects of health and safety throughout the construction life cycle. We also know that use of BIM has become widespread in NZ construction, with more than 70% of industry projects now estimated to use BIM, according to the most recent industry-wide survey in 2021. However, despite the entrenchment of BIM in projects generally, its application to health and safety is not yet well-recognised. Some of the barriers previously identified include a lack of awareness of how BIM can be applied to health and safety; a relatively small number of industry participants with BIM expertise, and thus limited engagement with BIM within a project; and poor transfer of information between different stakeholders.
To provide information to guide the direction of the BIMSafe project, and to establish a yardstick against which the impact of this project can be measured, BIMSafe NZ launched a nationwide survey in 2022, with the following objectives:
- To assess the current state of BIM use and awareness in construction health and safety practices in New Zealand.
- To set a benchmark that will enable the industry’s progress over the next three years to be measured.
We have now concluded the first iteration of the survey and have gained some interesting food for thought as the project continues. The survey sought responses from all stakeholders in both horizontal and vertical facilities projects, including those who had never used BIM as well as current users, and was open online for 6 months between July and December 2022. In total, 96 responses were received, but almost a third were incomplete; 67 respondents completed the survey. This is a lower response rate than we had hoped, but feedback from respondents have helped us to revise the survey to make it more accessible in future iterations.
The majority of respondents were working in off-site roles, with only a quarter predominantly working on-site; their professional roles were quite diverse. More than two-thirds of the respondents were aware and using BIM, though fewer than half considered themselves to be advanced beginners or above in terms of their confidence in using BIM. Confidence levels dropped even lower when specific health and safety uses were considered, with less than a third rating themselves as advanced beginners or above. The low confidence levels reflected respondents’ training experience, with more than half of the respondents having had no BIM training targeted at H&S applications, and fewer than a quarter of them having anything more than overview-level training.
There was clear interest in the use of BIM for safety from those in specific health and safety roles, although only two of these specialists indicated that they were aware and had used BIM, and those two stated they had very limited BIM training and experience. However, comments from the H&S respondents, whether or not they had used BIM, indicated strong interest in the potential for BIM to support in the area. Work-zone planning was the most popular application of BIM for safety management, with half of the respondents either currently already using it or with plans to implement it within the next year. This was closely followed by the use of BIM for managing temporary structures. BIM for site safety monitoring or safety inspections were the least likely H&S uses of BIM, with very few respondents currently using BIM for these purposes, and the majority indicating that they were not applicable or with no plans to implement. The applications of BIM in the context of personnel management in the H&S field were more widely recognised, with few respondents considering BIM to be not applicable in these areas. Communication and collaboration was the aspect most widely used currently and with the greatest plans for future use. BIM for near-miss identification was least commonly used currently, but plans for future use were high.
Despite the low levels of experience and training in BIM for health and safety applications, comments show that respondents consider it valuable, especially because the improvements possible in visualising and communicating safety needs. Using the BIM model to assist with communication across language barriers was one specific benefit identified. The ability to share the information and understanding to help make better decisions sooner was cited more generally as a key advantage.
Given the low levels of training and confidence in BIM for H&S, it was unsurprising to see lack of knowledge and uneven implementation noted as key limitations of BIM currently. The potential for parallel and potentially inconsistent processes to develop, challenges for sub-contractors and smaller companies to develop appropriate levels of skill or invest in the right tools, and a lack of clarity on what requirements and possibilities exist were identified as problems that developed from those underlying issues. Further to this, the time and cost implications of efforts to improve the performance across the board were of course at the forefront for many. Some respondents expressed a dislike for the reliance on software functions, and had concerns about people disconnecting from “real life construction”. The need for any BIM solutions to draw on the expertise of health and safety specialists was emphasised.
On the whole, the survey has indicated that the industry is ready and waiting for help in achieving better health and safety through the use of BIM. Some respondents have experience using BIM for other purposes and are keen to apply it to Health and Safety needs, while others are not currently using it but see the benefits. The planned activities of the BIMSafe project have great potential to support a step-change in the industry that will help deliver improved health and safety outcomes, and we hope that future iterations of the survey will allow us to monitor this progress.