BIM (Building Information Modeling) Risk Library

Authors: William Collinge, Patrick Manu, Clara Cheung, Mojgan Hadi Mosleh and Andre Freitas. Thomas Ashton Institute, and Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering.

Construction worker on building site

The BIM risk library project has been a successful three year research collaboration between The University of Manchester and the Health & Safety Executive (HSE): UK regulator for health and safety at work. Funded by Lloyd`s Register Foundation via the Discovering Safety Programme, the BIM risk library designed, developed and launched a new digital tool for construction industry to improve health and safety work practices. The resulting digital tool has been adopted by several leading construction organisations, positively changing working practices and processes. The research was recipient of several industry awards: buildingSMART award for professional research (2020); and Construction Computing Award for health and safety software (2021). 

Commencing in January 2019, the BIM risk library evolved steadily from initial conceptual idea (an ontology) to prototype library of data (using information from HSE and industry partners), proceeding to software tool (via collaborative work with software vendor) that was then used by industry partners on their live construction projects. Throughout the research process, close engagement and communication with the construction industry (the ultimate users of the BIM risk library digital tool) was intrinsic to the research process: this engagement manifesting through establishment of a Steering Committee, industry workshops, collaborative agreements, etc. 

Applying open research practices

The BIM risk library made active use of health and safety data from the HSE archive: openly available press releases, and RIDDOR (Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations) to identify risk scenarios that were integrated into the BIM risk library. Industry partners used their own information to further populate the risk library with risk scenarios. Treatments for the risk scenarios were sourced from openly available regulatory guidance, engagement with industry professionals through a series of industry workshops, and active use of the digital tool by designers and engineers working on construction projects.

The BIM risk library facilitates an open sharing of data by companies and government regulators at a national level and is a positive step forward for the construction project industry – a sector beset by fragmentation and silo working. The library fills a critical information gap: providing data on risks and their associated treatments, enriched by 3D visualisations, throughout the design process. This will mean managing occupational safety risks in construction is thought about at the earliest possible stage - before construction work begins on site. At the core of the library is a database of risk scenarios and treatments, accessible and open to further addition by designers and engineers working on their models in 3D BIM environments.

Overcoming challenges

  1. Validation of the conceptual idea was challenging, but was mitigated by engagement with industry via special interest group (BIM4Health and Safety) and setting up a dedicated industry Steering Group to monitor and comment on evolution of the research. 
  2. Development of software prototype was also challenging. This mitigated by contracting with a software vendor to develop the interface. 
  3. (Another challenge encountered was the use of digital tools by industry. This was mitigated by: drawing up collaborative agreements with industry partners (legally signed documents) that guarantee data protection and security. The collaborative agreements cover such issues as terms & conditions, provision of pilot licences, anonymization of data, etc. 

Additionally, the above challenges were mitigated by drawing on the extensive industry network of the Thomas Ashton Institute, the researcher team, and HSE to stimulate interest and participation by the key stakeholders.

Benefits of using these open research practices

The open and transparent approach resulted in: 

  • Positive industry engagement with the research project process.
  • Positive relationships being established with all parties (i.e. industry experts; construction industry organisations; government regulator – HSE).
  • Access to datasets for positive research work benefits.
  • Research output (i.e. BIM risk library) which has won two industry awards.

Top tip

Close engagement and communication with industry stakeholder at the early stage is essential for research project success: identify the experts, create steering committee, set up relevant collaborative agreement with industry partners; engage via workshops, test, prototype, and refine your output with industry. 

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