Role for BIM in enabling high-rise building safety 'golden thread'

Out-Law Analysis | 04 Sep 2019 | 12:44 pm | 2 min. read

As those involved in the construction of new high-rise buildings look set to face new requirements to maintain an accurate digital record of information, greater and more sophisticated use of building information modelling (BIM) technology seems to be an obvious way of doing so.

The UK government recently canvassed views on its proposals for a radical new building and fire safety system, aimed at putting residents' safety at its heart. The proposals outlined in the consultation build on the recommendations put forward in last year's Hackitt Review of building and fire safety, set up following the fire at Grenfell Tower in London.

The proposals include the concept of 'duty holders' having clear responsibilities to ensure that the 'golden thread' of building information is held digitally, so it is available to all relevant owners/users throughout a building's design, construction and occupation. They do not come as any great surprise following the Hackitt Review, and they are generally consistent with the government's wider agenda to transform the UK's construction industry.

David Greenwood

Senior Associate

The challenge is for all those involved in the delivery of infrastructure projects in the UK to ensure they have the necessary skills and capabilities to create and maintain an accurate digital record of the assets they are building.

The challenge now is for all those involved in the delivery of infrastructure projects in the UK to get on board and ensure they have the necessary skills and capabilities to create and maintain an accurate digital record of the assets they are building. Parties must, however, be mindful of blurring the contractual lines of design and insurance liability through additional data sharing and collaboration on a shared platform, such as a BIM model.

BIM: the Hackitt Review

As set out in chapter 8 of the Hackitt Review, the purpose of the digital record is "to ensure that accurate building information is securely created, updated and accessible, at points throughout the building life cycle". The review went on to describe the digital record as "a critical element of a functioning system, which is designed to enable fundamental change to the current model of risk ownership".

Promoting BIM as an enabler of the creation of an effective digital record, the Hackitt Review said that a BIM system would "enable the dutyholder to ensure accuracy and quality of design and construction, which are crucial for building-in safety up front".

It added: "Having BIM enabled data sets during occupation means that dutyholders will have a suitable evidence base through which to deliver their responsibilities and maintain safety and integrity throughout the life cycle of a building. Information can be updated as and when changes are made during the building life cycle."

BIM: the recent consultation

The government's proposals in the recent consultation aim to bring Hackitt's recommendations to life. Part C of the consultation states the government's belief that "a golden thread of accurate and up-to-date information about the design, construction and ongoing maintenance of residential buildings in scope is necessary to support building safety".

Greater use of technologies such as BIM and increased collaboration between designers, developers, contractors and operators seems inevitable.

The government proposes the following minimum standards of an effective digital record:

  • the information and data must be stored and accessible through a computer or other electronic device;
  • the government may choose to mandate that the golden thread of building information has to comply with BIM standards including BS 1192, PAS 1192 and the BS EN ISO 19650 suite; and
  • the government expects that the golden thread will require the use of a common data environment that will allow different parties to work collaboratively on developing and maintaining the information.

On BIM specifically, the government said: "Mandating BIM would make best use of ongoing work to promote digitalisation in the construction industry, consistent with other government and industry initiatives such as the Transforming Construction programme and the Construction Sector Deal".

Whilst it remains to be seen how the consultation will influence government plans for new regulations, the direction of travel seems set to be one which mandates the creation and updating of a more uniform, consistent level of building information which will then have to be made available to building owners. To achieve this, a greater use of technologies such as BIM and increased collaboration between designers, developers, contractors and operators seems inevitable.

David Greenwood is a building information modelling expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.