BIM - The Good the Bad and the Law

Friday, 9th January 2015

This article was first published on Construction News on 8 January 2015 and the full article can be found online here.

The 2016 central government target, requiring level 2 BIM to be employed for its projects has generated much trade discussion.

Some, like the paragraphs on Scandinavian implementation below, explore the positive outcomes available, but other commentators put forward the challenges/problems. These conflicting reactions pervade all aspects of the discussion of BIM.

There has been much discussion of the possible problems relating to the contractual arrangements particularly when it comes to IPR and confidentiality, but initiatives like the CIC BIM protocol have helped to dampen such concerns.

However, unlike the civil law issues it seems that the criminal law possibilities have had little consideration. Like everything else with BIM the criminal element is double edged.

"Like everything else with BIM the criminal element is double edged" The construction industry is necessarily well covered by health, safety and environmental criminal law - only health and safety is considered here (environment is for another day).

It is commonly accepted that the industry is now rising to these challenges achieving excellent safety statistics in high profile projects such as Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Olympics. If BIM becomes central to such projects (some believe it already has in some shape or form) how will that affect health and safety?

The first consideration should be how will BIM affect CDM, the main construction health and safety legal framework – and, importantly, the proposed changes to CDM next April.

It is foreseeable that the use of BIM will be extremely useful to the new CDM’s proposed role of ‘Principal Designer’.

The PD role appears to have heavier responsibilities than the CDM Coordinator role it replaces. The new role seems to be there to provide a pre-construction assurance role similar to that of the existing construction phase Principal Contractor. Whether by design or accident, BIM and the Principal Designer role are made for each other.

"Whether by design or accident, BIM and the Principal Designer role are made for each other"

Another consideration is the transparency that BIM will provide to HSE accident investigations. A BIM facility will provide a previously unavailable insight into the design thought process. Any failures in design, specification or implementation will be easily discovered by an investigator. Again the BIM mixed reaction will manifest itself. Some organisations will feel threatened by such transparency, whereas others will feel it will be an opportunity to showcase their diligence - demonstrating that their input is not to blame for any failure.

Those interested in the impact of BIM whether in health and safety or otherwise will look to see how it has worked in countries where BIM is more established. BIM is being used in Scandinavia with measurably positive outcomes. For example, BIM is credited with improving productivity and reduced reworking on the complex Swedish Hallandsås Tunnel project which is now on course for completion.

In Norway BIM is widely used, particularly in large projects, including infrastructure, but increasingly in the housing sector. Most BIM enabled projects in Norway are adopting BIM at stage 1, or occasionally stage 2 level. According to Jøns Sjøgren, of the Norwegian Home Builders Association (and former Board Member of buildingSMART Norway and buildingSmart international), the technology is available for Stage 2 and Stage 3 implementation but the challenge is that the necessary processes have not been fully developed.

"Another consideration is the transparency that BIM will provide to HSE accident investigations"

This is compounded by a reluctance on the part of the private sector to freely exchange data in a way that they perceive as threatening profit. This reflects the concerns already expressed above in the second paragraph.

However, implementation of level 1 and 2 BIM in Norway is leading to efficiencies and ultimately reduced costs.

Jøns has a member housebuilder franchise organisation which has been able to standardise the data for several house models using BIM. The models are then passed to builders who build the complete models. Use of BIM and the resulting standardisation has reduced costs by about 20-30 per cent.

So it seems where BIM is being implemented it is achieving the results the UK government requires in efficiency, it will be interesting to see how it affects the other construction parameters such as health, safety and environmental performance.

This article was written by Richard Voke, Partner and Head of Business Risk & Regulation, and Stephen Homer, Partner and Head of Construction. 

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