How to make working at height safer through 3D and 4D modelling

For Safe Working At Height Week 2023, James Bowles explains how integrating 3D and 4D modelling into the planning and execution of working at height operations significantly mitigates risks.

Above: Use of digital modelling to plan work at height on a typical high-rise building.

Working at height remains one of the most hazardous activities within the construction and maintenance sectors. The inherent risks of falls, dropped objects and structural failures pose threats to operative safety and can lead to costly operational inefficiencies.

Traditional methods of planning and executing such tasks often rely on 2D drawings and static risk assessments, which may not fully capture the dynamic nature of the environment or the complexity of the tasks at hand.

In contrast, the use of 3D and 4D modelling technologies offers an innovative approach to mitigating these risks and enhancing operational performance.

3D modelling: An extra dimension in safety and efficiency

  • Visualising access strategies: By using 3D building design models such as Revit, stakeholders can add building maintenance units, access equipment and delineate safe working zones. This visualisation enables a collaborative review and development of access strategies, engaging access consultants, architects and facility management teams in a comprehensive planning process.
  • Testing safety systems virtually: 3D models allow for the virtual demonstration and testing of safety systems. This pre-emptive analysis helps in identifying potential failure points and in ensuring that safety measures are not just compliant but also optimised for the specific challenges of the site.
  • Risk identification and planning: 3D modelling significantly enhances the ability to plan and identify risks to operatives, the building fabric and the public. It can provide a detailed perspective that helps in foreseeing interaction between operatives, equipment and the environment, thereby preventing accidents and structural damage.

4D modelling: adding time to 3D models

  • Simulating operations over time: Integrating the time element into 3D models creates a 4D simulation, allowing for the visualisation of operations at different stages. This temporal aspect is crucial for sequencing tasks, predicting potential bottlenecks, and ensuring that the workflow is as safe and efficient as possible.
  • Engaging operational staff: By simulating different stages of work, 4D modelling allows detailed input from the workforce. This feedback is invaluable for refining the design of physical systems, methods of working and training programs, leading to a safer and more efficient operational environment.

The process is straightforward and includes technologies that have been well-tested in construction planning. These 4D models can also be used to record the progress of operations, provide real-time updates and improve maintenance reporting.

In conclusion, the integration of 3D and 4D modelling into the planning and execution of working at height operations represents a significant leap forward in ensuring the safety of workers and the public, as well as in streamlining operational processes.

By embracing these technologies, any companies involved in working at height can expect to see a reduction in accidents, enhanced compliance with safety regulations and a boost in overall productivity.

James Bowles is the founder and lead consultant of Freeform. He posts regularly about 3D and 4D modelling on LinkedIn.

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