Building Information Modeling (BIM) for Safety Planning

BIM is a concept that offers software technology application (app) that integrates digital building information for hazard identification and safety planning. It can virtual map a project lifecycle from design through procurement, construction, operation, and maintenance.


Building Information Modeling (BIM), according to the definition from the National Institute of Building Sciences, "is a digital representation of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. A BIM is a shared knowledge resource for information about a facility forming a reliable basis for decisions during its life-cycle; defined as existing from earliest conception to demolition."

BIM is a multi-dimensional model that can virtually map the building project lifecycle from design through procurement, construction, operation, and maintenance. In addition to geometric dimensions of the project (width, height and depth), BIM can also incorporate material specifications, project cost, and project schedule information into the model. This functionality of BIM facilitates the project scheduling process and assists project managers in sequencing activities and addressing potential clashes during the preplanning phase. Moreover, it helps project managers streamline the procurement process and logistics of the project which, as a result, can reduce material waste and potential project time overruns due to the material delivery delays.


(Photo courtesy from ELCOSH)

Although one of the primary features in using BIM is for better workflow management through collaboration, the purpose of this draft is to focus on the safety and health aspect in which this tool helps with preconstruction risk assessments for the daily implementation of safety provisions in specific job tasks in their respective phases of the building project.

In addition, there are also supplemental programs that can be installed and work in conjunction with BIM. These programs have predefined rule sets or enable the ability to code and apply tailored algorithms to automatically scan and detect defined hazardous components of the building project.  Moreover, they can also analyze dimensional variables and create color-coded visual overlays on the model to characterize the level of potential risk for hazard.

  • Location, size, and timeline of temporary job site hazards—floor penetrations, perimeter protection areas, etc.—and the materials required for protection
  • Requirements for erosion and sedimentation control
  • Equipment and egress requirements by phase
  • Pedestrian protection measures
  • Design criteria for the ramps on the site, including slope, landing distances at the top and bottom, and entrance and exit locations
  • Location, size, and timeline of temporary job site hazards—floor penetrations, perimeter protection areas, etc.—and the materials required for protection
  • Requirements for erosion and sedimentation control
  • Equipment and egress requirements by phase
  • Pedestrian protection measures

Risks Addressed:

Human error such as limited expertise or oversight of engineers or safety personnel during the safety planning, inspection, and monitoring can increase the risk of multiple hazards during different phases of construction projects.  These hazards include: (but are not limited to) falls, musculoskeltal injuries and illnesses, welding hazards, and struck-by injuries.

How Risks are Reduced:

By tracking and monitoring new variables introduced in dynamic working environments such as construction, BIM can improve health and safety through preliminary hazard identification and instilling prevention through design (ptd) components, such as prefabrication, to reduce the number of high-risk tasks.

The general risk reduction benefit is through the systematic identification of potential hazards.  Moreover, safety planning in construction is often a fragmented process during the project execution planning phase and involves different project personnel.  This can present issues in communications and create difficulties for safety engineers to perform accident prevention analyses and recommend appropriate safety measures.  Thus, BIM has the technological advantage to streamline communications as well incorporate automatic safety checking over the entire course of the construction project to facilitate safety planning.  For example, through automated safety rule-checking in BIM, the risk of human error can be minimized by defining where and when fall prevention equipment should be in place to floor penetrations or areas that require perimeter protection.

BIM also inherently embodies prevention through design concepts that improves worker safety through prefabrication.  For example, the risk of falls can be reduced by less excursions up roofs, ladders, scaffolds and lifts; workers can have reduced muskuloskeltal injuries and illnesses from less manual material handling and working in unfavorable ergnomic environments.  The risk of welding fume exposure and burns from welding is minimized as well through offsite prefabrication in a more controlled setting.  For example, BIM can detail specific concrete and steel construction plans such that casting embeds or attaching beams, if not manufactured, can be done on the ground level without requiring a worker to otherwise climb up to perform the necessary welding tasks.

Other BIM-driven safety planning can incorporate design features to protect workers during facilities operations and maintenance.  As such, models can optimize the design and layout of interstitial service areas to eliminate potential ergonimical hazards (from kneeling and squatting, or stressful hand and wrist activities, for example) while working in tight spaces or burns from working near hot pipes.

Effects on Productivity:

When considering the benefits of automating BIM-based safety planning over manual modeling, it was found that automation has the potential to advance the BIM-based planning procedure by reducing time and manual modeling efforts.  If a change order occurs, additional time and other human resources are needed to check the model carefully to make sure the intially proposed safety control options are still valid and accurate.  While manual modeling provides the advantage that a human is involved in every step, it is time consuming and potentially error prone.  Through accurate designs that minimize change orders, BIM helps reduce the risk of errors through integrated design, engineering, and fabrication workflows.

BIM can improve workflow management through the involvement and collaboration of different building project personnel for the building project.  Through this transparent coordination effort, there is better process control and human resource management by efficiently managing what and when resources are needed to complete certain job tasks.  There is also better material resource management through estimations on the material procurement and bidding.

Additional Considerations:

New personnel to a construction project who are unaware of the site safety measures in place can quickly understand construction processes better through BIM's visual representation of site conditions and project timeline.

There is continuing research on integrating radio frequency identification (RFID) into BIM.  A 2014 conference paper, A BIM-RFID Unsafe On-site Behavior Warning System, suggested a BIM-based warning prototype system identifying and tracking worker behavior in real-time.  Such technology can provide functions in identifying personnel training, location recognition, supervision of equipment operation, and collision prevention.


Le, Jean Christophe, MPH - CPWR - The Center for Construction for Research and Training


Bentley Systems, Inc.
To obtain information, visit ProjectWise Construction Work Package Server and ConstructSim V8i (add-on to ProjectWise) or contact 1-800-236-8539

Autodesk, Inc.
To obtain information, visit BIM 360 Products or contact 1-415-507-5000

Solibri, Inc.
To obtain information, visit Solibri Model Checker or contact 1-480-305-2120

Return on Investment

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