Construction: time to get risk-averse09 January 2023


The construction industry is crying out for a statistical approach to identifying and mitigating safety risks. With the new Construction Risk Library project, it might just have arrived

The Construction Risk Library brings together the health and safety expertise of the HSE with engineering firm Atkins, academics from the University of Manchester and a software company, 3D Repo. Collectively known as Discovering Safety, the programme centres on a bank of standardised data and processes that reduce or mitigate safety risks in construction. These can then be ‘designed in’ at an early stage, so that risks never even make it to the construction site.

By integrating health and safety information into visualisation software and building information management (BIM) tools, designers and planners using the Construction Risk Library can mitigate the risks that would otherwise appear on-site, preventing many needless injuries and deaths.

One of the ambitions of the Construction Risk Library is to break down some of the barriers between designers and construction contractors. These roles are interlinked but often do not mix because of the way clients draw up contracts (with separate design and construction stages). Designers frequently complete their work with little or no input from the people who will be building the project on site – and their knowledge can have a huge impact on the safety of the construction programme. Contractors also have specific methods of construction that can be unique to each organisation and require consideration when preparing designs.

The Construction Risk Library will fill this critical information gap. It will provide data on risks and their associated treatments, enriched by 3D visualisations, throughout the design process. This will mean managing safety risks is a prime consideration at the earliest possible stage, before a spade hits the ground.

“Early and fundamental is better than late and requiring management,” says Gordon Crick, inspector of health and safety from the HSE’s construction division, who is spearheading the project. “Digital tools such as BIM provide us with a huge opportunity to share information, which can have massive benefits for safety and efficiency.”

The first phase of the project was building a case for the use of BIM for safety management in construction by consulting with industry partners, followed by further development of the Construction Risk Library’s data repository, enriched with information from the HSE’s library of safety reports. Breaking down the project thus far (in chronological order) reads as follows: developing the ontology; sourcing risk scenarios, mapping scenarios to treatment prompts; implementing a prototype of the risk library in 3D/4D BIM environments; and evaluating with pilot projects and surveys among experts.

Piloting the tool with a wide variety of projects in industry proves that the concept of a digital tool to assist in safety management is sound. Visualising safety information within a BIM environment provides context to the identified risks. Subsequently, this approach delivers an opportunity to mitigate these risks with improved design, construction methods and planning.

The pilot activities also enabled further data collection from industry regarding real risk scenarios and mitigations (treatments) from live projects: this data feeding into a growing risk library database of potential value for all industry to use and share. In particular, automatic classification of free text into the risk library categories provides access to semantic information from documented past events.

Zane Ulhaq, an associate director at Atkins, has been seconded to the HSE to help bring the Construction Risk Library to fruition. Ulhaq is building on his previous experience as the lead of SafetiBase – a data management and visualisation tool developed by 3D Repo. SafetiBase had input from a consortium of industry partners working on ways of encouraging collaborative working on safety. To support his efforts on the project, Ulhaq is the lead technical author for the new ISO 19650-6 standard on BIM for health and safety.

“This project is all about prevention by design, then understanding the different design areas to try and bring the number of incidents down,” says Ulhaq. “Traditionally we’ve worked in different types of silos, whether that’s across clients into their supply chains, or across programmes. We’ve been fairly limited in how we shared that information, particularly how we addressed or categorised risks, and how we provided mitigations [treatments]. It was disaggregated information.”

For that reason, Ulhaq suggests it was a good idea to build a risk library that looks at factors from both a company and national perspective, and how through that library it would be possible to provide treatment suggestions based on the categorisation of risks.

Ontology expands

“We worked with industrial players such as MultiPlex, Atkins and Heathrow to trial the tool,” states Ulhaq. “They gave us access to active projects, allowing us to pull anonymised data into this joined-up risk library. Moving on from these pilot projects, we’re now developing a community of practice and expanding the ontology beyond just risks and treatments, into incidents. We can then start to prioritise the treatments, rather than simply having a plethora of treatments available. This will identify the preferred treatment in a given risk scenario.

“Of course, we need the proper level of industry buy-in to move forward,” he continues. “The benefits of getting involved are clear: our stakeholders and partners tell us that gaining access to our regulatory health and safety experts is invaluable to improving their outcomes. We have a collective responsibility to prevent fatalities and injuries in the interests of a safer industry.”

Crick adds: “Focussing early on the design and planning stages of projects has real potential. Improving the way we manage risk, predictability and treatments at the design phase can make a genuine difference to the plateau of health and safety performance that we have in this country.”

BOX: Risk library for other industries?

The tools and processes in the Construction Risk Library are also suitable for use in other industries. Construction was selected as the starting point because it is one of the most dangerous of all sectors, where around 80,000 UK workers suffer job-related injuries or illness every year.

The Discovering Safety team is now testing the Construction Risk Library in other industries, including pharmaceutical, where it is working with AstraZeneca. It has already used the tool in one of its projects following a systematic and collaborative approach to identifying risk scenarios and proposing treatments. The use of the tool led to identifying critical risks and a redesign prior to the tendering process. Subsequently, AstraZeneca used the tool to communicate the identified risks with parties submitting tenders.

Steed Webzell

Related Companies
Atkins plc
University of Manchester

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