Digesting digital’s role in building safety

Last month’s CM webinar with Autodesk looked at how software and data can help construction meet the requirements of the looming building safety legislation. Will Mann was the chair.

Time is running out for construction organisations which keep poor digital asset records. That was one of the key messages from a recent webinar organised by CM and BIM+, in association with Autodesk.

Panellists discussed how better use of digital models and data management could help the industry meet the requirements of the looming Building Safety Bill, including Dame Judith Hackitt’s ‘golden thread’ of building information.

In April, the government gave its response to the consultation on Hackitt’s independent review of Building Regulations and fire safety, and Anne-Marie Friel, partner – infrastructure at Pinsent Masons, spoke first about the legal and regulatory implications.

“The single most important feature of this new system is that the building safety regulator will be overseen by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE),” she said. “This will drive real cultural change. And it makes a lot of sense – moving away from complex approved documents and towards goal-setting legislation which leaves duty-holders free to innovate and develop technical solutions within an overarching framework of accountability.”

Anne-Marie Friel, Pinsent Masons: “Maintaining the status quo of poor digital records is risky and getting riskier.”

And Friel noted the enforcement differences likely under the HSE umbrella: “As Dame Judith says, ‘get it wrong – and it won’t be just a minor rap across the knuckles anymore’.”

The Building Safety Bill will cover new and existing residential properties – over six storeys or 18m – but Friel thought it likely to be extended to other multi-occupied buildings where people sleep.

She also highlighted that the new approval gateways system is tied closely to the ‘golden thread’.

“Gateway one is before planning is granted. At gateway two, approval must be obtained before construction can start on site – and it’s at this stage that a 3D digital model of the building as planned, including what products will be used, must be submitted,” she explained.

“Any deviation from that model will require the principal contractor to consult with the client and designer. The regulator most approve any major changes, so it is much harder to deviate from the original plan. This will make value engineering much more difficult.

“At gateway three, client, contractor and designer will have to certify compliance with Building Regulations and the handover of the golden thread information.”

Friel pointed out that major refurbishments will also trigger the gateway process at stage two. “For older buildings with little documentation, it will be difficult to supply the golden thread information,” she said. “We recommend an intrusive survey to support the gateway information requirements.”

Next, the challenge of identifying digital solutions to meet the golden thread requirements was discussed by Lee Mullin, construction technical specialist at Autodesk.

“With traditional execution of construction projects, process inefficiencies cause ‘data dropouts’ through concept, design, construct and operate,” he said.

“Since Grenfell, we’ve been seeing a lot of housing landlords running surveys to understand what has been built and create digital records. That information is often contained in CAD plans, spreadsheets or databases. What we recommend, to collect all this data together, is to create a full building information model.”

Lee Mullin, Autodesk: “BIM improves the information flow between different design and construction stages.”

When deciding what data to collect, Mullin recommends asking three key questions:

“First, who is using the data? Profile all individuals, from senior execs to surveyors on the ground and maintenance workers, who will need access to the data.

“Second, what data are you collecting? Consider regulatory requirements and information needed about products from suppliers. This is where BIM is powerful, as more detail can be added through the design and construction process, for example, about fire ratings.

“Third, how will you maintain that data? Because there will be changes to those assets, for example boiler upgrades, and this information will have to be updated.”

Mullin believes the process is as important as the technology used. “There are existing standards which detail information management processes – PAS 1192 and the more recent ISO 19650 – so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Many in the industry are already using these standards.

“Also think about the people and the culture across a project – that will impact on how you can deliver this golden thread.”

Understanding assets

The third presenter was Clarion Housing’s fire safety projects director Dan Hollas. Clarion is the UK’s largest housing association and its fire safety team has been carrying out laser scans of its high-rise blocks to create digital models with Autodesk’s Revit and ReCap.

“The aim is a 3D model with tagged asset data to improve our management of our stock,” explained Hollas. “There are benefits in terms of compliance, fire safety and a better understanding of our assets which can inform our asset management strategy and make us more responsive to tenant needs.”

The challenge for Clarion is effectively linking the asset data to the digital model. The housing group is running a ‘proof of concept’ on a 10-storey building, with two providers, creating point clouds – from laser scans – of the block and archetypes of the flats inside, plus data for all fire safety equipment only.

“The providers will then supply us with a 3D model, with assets tagged, and a system linking tags within the model to asset data. Plus we want functionality that allows us to access all this asset data and run the reports we require,” Hollas said.

Dan Hollas, Clarion: “We want to programme our major works based on accurate data.”

Once this is achieved, Clarion plans to roll the system out across all its high-risk residential buildings.

The full webinar, including the Q&A session, is available on

Questions from attendees

Hamish Henderson-Begg: Will the new handover be the end of soft landings?

Anne-Marie Friel: It is hard to predict all the detailed cultural changes that will happen in response to the new regulations. However, it feels inevitable that, for in-scope buildings, the regulatory framework for gateway three, will become the primary focus for all stakeholders and replace current processes.

Andy Burrows: How was the internal mapping done [on Clarion’s projects]?

Dan Hollas: We went into two archetype flats and put the scanner in two places in each. We found tenants were helpful and quite interested in what we were doing. One challenge was data protection – the scanners were so good they picked up everything in the flat, including photos on the walls.

Alan Glennon: When a subcontractor does not have any BIM software, is quoting for a project designed in BIM possible?

Lee Mullin: Yes, and we have worked with many subcontractors who have worked within a BIM project. If they are contributing towards the design, BIM will allow them to reduce risk by coordinating with other disciplines.

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