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March 29, 2012

BIM evolves into a safety tool

  • Complex aviation projects can benefit greatly from the technology’s ability to enhance safety.
    Skanska USA


    Safety in construction has always been a primary goal for property owners, builders and their subcontractors.

    As contractors update their processes based on lessons learned, worker safety and health continue to improve. Fatal work injuries in private construction declined 16 percent from 2008 to 2009. Still, despite these positive gains, private construction in 2010 had the highest number of fatal accidents of any industry in America.

    To better prevent these incidents, builders and other built-environment professionals are always considering new methods and tools. One such tool is Building Information Modeling. Used for several years for a number of applications, BIM only recently is being leveraged for its ability to enhance construction safety in challenging settings like aviation environments.

    That’s good news to industry professionals, government leaders and travelers alike, given the various facility-improvement projects planned or under way at airports nationwide. In fact, several major facilities upgrades are being planned at Sea-Tac Airport over the next several years.

    Before digging deep into BIM in the aviation setting, however, it’s worth taking a closer look at what the technology entails, and how its many facets can benefit most any kind of construction project.

    A visual communicator

    Image courtesy of Skanska USA [enlarge]
    Using BIM, designers were able to identify a tripping hazard in this industrial plant.

    BIM is a 3-D computer software model that produces a highly accurate simulation of the facility, from which many different views and data can be extracted and analyzed to make decisions and improve the building process. Essentially, BIM helps by visually communicating the project — a picture is worth a thousand words — and increases team members’ understanding of the project.

    While BIM is a relatively new industry technology, it’s gaining momentum, largely due to its ability to increase project efficiencies and save time and money. A recent nationwide survey on BIM usage among 115 design and engineering firms found that one-quarter of them are using BIM in at least 25 percent of their work. More than 69 percent of firms planned to increase their use of BIM.

    Professionals are embracing the technology because the 3-D models can be used for many purposes, including worker safety training and education, safety planning and employee involvement.

    Consider BIM on airport security-related projects where the key to success is in the phasing of the project. A construction phasing plan is developed during preconstruction in collaboration with the entire project team: airport staff, designers, program managers and key stakeholders. Along with a master project schedule, phasing is then detailed and communicated to all team members.

    BIM is an instrumental tool during this process and helps builders to actively manage the following challenges during construction:

    • Space planning. Relocate existing select carrier services to new space as the project progresses.

    • Security. Comply with airport security rules, including access to work boundaries and staff badging.

    • Safety. Comply with vehicle, equipment and worker movement rules around the airport; maintain the highest levels of cleanliness in all work areas.

    • Logistics. Strict enforcement of equipment and material deliveries due to limited staging and lay down areas.

    • Worker facilitation. Workers have to be transported to the site from off-site parking to control traffic flow within the construction zones.

    • Communication. Coordinate all signage and way-finding during construction of the project’s areas to eliminate employee inconvenience and provide safe access.

    Construction in the aviation field poses a unique set of circumstances where BIM can specifically help increase safety and minimize accidents. That’s particularly true for security facility upgrades, widely considered some of the industry’s most complex and challenging projects.

    Aviation terminal projects can only be successful when all aspects of public safety and convenience are coordinated and considered well in advance of any construction work. There can be no disruptions to ongoing operations, so each phase must be planned and repeatedly communicated before actual work ever occurs.

    Leveraging BIM can positively impact safety on construction sites through:

    • New employee orientation. Craftspeople new to a jobsite are at a higher risk of injuries until they understand a site’s working environment. BIM can help them understand better and faster.

    • Site-specific safety planning. This helps identify and eliminate a project’s potential hazards, including site utilities and their proximity to construction work, before breaking ground.

    • Pre-task planning. This offers the most opportunities to use BIM for construction safety. By looking at elements to be built on a 3-D model, workers can better identify the hazards and control measures to complete tasks faster and more safely.

    • Job-hazard analysis. BIM can be used to help subcontractors perform job-hazard analysis and develop safe work methods.

    • Accident investigation. BIM can also be used during an incident investigation to re-create event sequence and the incident scene.

    Maintaining the floor structure and location of the existing screening areas allows for many phasing possibilities that, in turn, will ensure uninterrupted service. Construction of the Transportation Security Administration offices, interview rooms and infrastructure to support the TSA screening equipment, concessionaire spaces and restrooms are undertaken in a methodical fashion, using existing flex space prior to any interruption of service at the existing facility.

    Upon completion and certification of the new facilities, the new TSA screening area will be opened and the older TSA areas will be closed and renovated.

    BIM has transformed the construction industry and is reshaping how we deliver projects. For years the technology has produced measurable results in terms of efficiency, cost and time savings. Today, BIM is helping professionals to raise the bar for planning and maintaining safe and healthy airport-terminal construction sites, which are widely considered some of the industry’s most complex and challenging work environments.

    Mark Howell is senior vice president of Skanska USA and leads the firm’s health-care and aviation projects within the region. He’s managed 10 projects that have used varying degrees of BIM technology.

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