The Missing Links

Male And Female Industrial Engineers Using Tablet Computer And Blueprints Checking And Analysis Data Of Power Plant Station Project On Network Background.

By Paul Duggan, BIMSafe NZ Project Lead

I recently read a couple of articles on LinkedIn which has inspired today’s sermon. The first was in reference to a mountain biking risk assessment matrix. From my previous life I recall that mountain biking is considered one of the riskiest outdoor pursuits, and if you were taking a group of school kids mountain biking, I think you needed one adult per six children. How this strategy made the activity safer somehow escaped me as the kids all tended to be well south while the adults gingerly made their way down.  

The central theme of the article was that a health and safety person could easily produce the matrix, with a large number of risks and mitigation strategies, and lots of red, amber, and green boxes on the side. However, an actual mountain biker would probably lose interest and toss it in the bin before they got to the second or third row. Does the existence of the matrix make the activity any safer, or are we missing something?

The second article was on the current state of the Health and Safety by Design (HSD) Process in New Zealand. The article headline was “Our ideas about Safety in Design are probably wrong”.

It is always worthwhile to question the fundamental beliefs that underpin everything we do. By holding them up and examining them from a slightly different perspective, we can see a bit more clearly if what we think we are trying to achieve is actually what we are achieving.

Health and safety by design is no different. The author of the article suggested that most of the HSD process focuses entirely on identifying risks with the latest version of the design project, and then asking the question “how can we make this design safer”. This approach is all about improving the ‘safety of the design’ rather than the ‘safety of the work’. He was not stating that the design safety work was not important, but that the actual work and worker needs should be considered as well.

The missing part here is the ability of the designers to fully understand the hazards and risk that arise out of the work being undertaken to construct, maintain, and use the design. The people who do fully understand these risks tend to be the people who must construct or use the design in question.

Here is where BIMSafe can provide the missing links to both these scenarios. A BIM model of a project allows the construction workers, the maintenance workers, and the health and safety advisors to all contribute to the design phase and enable a collaborative approach to HSD. With the increase in BIM use on projects, and a greater number of design and build contracts being tendered, this is a great opportunity to utilise a BIMSafe approach.

A good starting point may be for the designer to ask the worker to describe as many ways as possible that he could hurt himself while carrying out a particular piece of work. I have no doubt that this would produce scenarios that the designers could not have imagined.

If the mountain biking risk assessment matrix included some glossy photographs of the injuries suffered by mountain bikers, this might inspire a closer inspection of the content. This demonstrates the power a visual image has as compared to words on a page. A BIM model enables workers to better understand the risks of constructing or using a particular design before the work is undertaken. This allows time and space for better safe-work planning and allows training to take place without the worker being exposed to the actual risk. 

BIMSafe NZ is hoping that the work we do in developing best practice guidelines and educating the industry will lead to a significant reduction in accidents and injuries on New Zealand construction sites.

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