Recent advances in BIM, offsite manufacture, drones and virtual reality are transforming approaches to health and safety on major projects. Dan Platten, sector health & safety manager for Crossrail and HS2 at Skanska, explains how.
Has technology improved how you manage health and safety on sites over the last three or four years?
Yes, within the last year we have seen drones undertake Working at Height inspections to entirely remove risk, there have been huge advances in engineering and surveying equipment that are removing the interface of people and plant.
In general terms, we have matured in our thinking and understanding around health and safety to adopt just and fair cultures and understand the organisational failure behind an event to prevent its re-occurrence, rather than blame the individual.
Are MMC and prefabrication having an increasing impact in designing out risk before projects get to site?
Yes, safety is being designed into projects and we have robust H&S management systems that apply during the design phase. Offsite manufacturing continues to be a solution and a way of reducing multiple risks, from safety to programme.
However, it is important that we do not simply transfer the risk to the factory environment and ensure that the same high standards are maintained and enforced there. There is a noticeable shift towards designing out health risks (for example reducing exposure to dust, noise and vibration) and occupational hygienists now frequently attend design reviews, which is a welcome change.
BIM is having a massive impact on designing out health and safety risks. Automated processes like clash detection are crucial in helping adopt a ‘right first time approach’, which helps reduce risk encountered by change as a result of errors being discovered too late.– Dan Platten, Skanska
Key to unlocking these benefits are clients who now focus more on safe design and earlier adoption of the main contractor.
What impact is BIM having on the ability to bring health and safety into design decision making?
BIM is having a massive impact on designing out health and safety risks. Automated processes like clash detection are crucial in helping adopt a “right first time approach”, which helps reduce risk encountered by change as a result of errors being discovered too late. The ability to walk through designs in 3D, or in a virtual reality simulation are really significant, effectively allowing H&S inspections to take place in advance of construction. Spotting hazards in realistic environments is a lot easier than on drawings.
3D/VR allows us to engage with people unfamiliar with technical construction drawings, like the end user or the maintainer, which helps further improve the design and identify risks that the designers were potentially unaware of. BIM’s ability to store data is also helping to improve health and safety related to things like buried services and underground asset protection.
What cutting edge or emerging tech is proving particularly effective at mitigating risks, or preventing injuries on site?
Drones are being used more frequently for working at height surveys, especially in pre-demolition stage. Virtual reality is helping us carry out digital rehearsals (4D BIM) of complex activity or to prove people’s competence in a certain area, such as operating a piece of machinery.
Advances in plant and machinery are making a huge difference to health – whether that’s minimising whole body vibration or lowering diesel exhaust emissions. We’ve also seen digital technology applied to old tools to measure hand arm vibration.
Do health and safety managers get more of a hearing on projects now when they propose new technologies to prevent or mitigate health risks?
Care for life is a “core value” at Skanska and therefore anyone with a H&S proposal will be listened to, technology or no technology.
Is Skanska able to differentiate itself from other contractors based on having very safe, hi-tech sites?
We are definitely at the forefront of helping develop high-tech sites and being a global business allows us to innovate more. But it’s not always the UK leading the way – in Sweden we are working with Volvo on autonomous vehicles and an electric quarry site – definitely a high-tech site and definitely a differentiator. We are currently looking to trial this concept and innovation here in the UK on one of our projects.
Looking to the near future, how will sites be different in safety terms?
We will see further separation of people and hazards through the use of robotics, autonomy and technology. Virtual reality will become more common on sites, perhaps initially to prove/test competence on machinery but also for digital rehearsals.
Digital twin technology is moving so fast and offers the potential remove people and plant even further.
The increased focus on designing out health risks will continue, resulting healthier sites and a reduction in health-related incidents.
Main image: crossrail.co.uk