A lack of digital maturity is hampering efforts to manage quality and safety issues which may occur during construction across Australia, a new report suggests.
Published by the University of Melbourne in conjunction with construction software provider Autodesk, the Construction Quality and Safety report examined current trends in use of technology to support the management of quality and safety risks which may be present throughout major building projects.
The report is based on a survey of more than 100 participants from two countries – Australia and Singapore – along with in-depth interviews with government and industry leaders and a review of publications that report on construction quality and safety trends.
It contrasts the situation between the two aforementioned countries, although this article focuses on the Australian findings.
According to the report, there are significant concerns about a lack of technology and/or process maturity with regard to quality and safety management in project delivery across Australia.
All up, more than half (51.9 percent) of Australian survey respondents cited a lack of clarity and/or audit trails in decision making processes as an important quality and safety concern with which their organisations grapple on a daily basis.
A further 50 percent cited challenges in capturing ‘as built’ information as a concern.
Meanwhile, more than half of all respondents indicated that there are significant challenges or ‘gaps’ when it comes to managing quality and safety issues.
These include a lack of information management across stakeholders, lack of data capture availability, difficulty in logging and verifying site-feedback, misaligned communication protocols across multiple projects and difficulty in gaining valuable insights from the data (see chart below).
In other survey results, among Australian respondents:
- There is a common belief that standards and/or regulations play a critical role in determining how construction quality is managed. Across all participants, 84.6 percent, 82.7 percent, 73.1 percent, 71.2 percent and 55.8 percent of respondents believe that standards and/or regulations which are set through either the project-team information plan, local authority regulations, client briefs and guidelines, in house protocols and international standards play a critical role in determining how construction quality is managed.
- Whilst almost six in ten respondents believe that workflows are well-aligned to facilitate information exchange across clients, contractors, suppliers and consultants in regard to quality and safety, as many as one third (33 percent) say there are significant problems in this area.
- Whilst six in ten respondents use digital notification systems to help manage safety and quality assurance concerns, almost one quarter (24 percent) either rarely or never use digital systems and are reliant upon either paper systems or MS Office documents to manage quality and safety.
- As many of six in ten (60 percent) respondents rely on manual take off during work in progress and defect inspections to verify as-installed conditions. Other methods include use of regular 360-degree photogrammetry and comparisons between 3D scans of onsite conditions with BIM models.
- Whilst almost one quarter of respondents conduct as installed checks at least weekly, more than one quarter (26 percent) either never conduct such checks or conduct such checks only at handover.
- Almost three quarters of respondents believe that technology has an important role in managing quality and safety during projects.
- 71 percent believe that use of technology either absolutely or mostly helps to effectively manage quality and safety issues and reduce safety risks.
The latest data comes as Australia’s construction industry has been affected by numerous quality and safety issues over the past decade following serious structural concerns at the Opal and Mascot Towers as well as the discovery of flammable cladding on thousands of multi-storey apartment complexes.
According to the report, technology can help to manage quality and safety in several areas.
For example, construction project management tools such as Autodesk Construction Cloud and others can enable project teams to share information in a common data environment.
This can help to address quality issues by ensuring that all project team members are working off the most up-to-date plans at all times.
It can also facilitate ongoing project communication with clients and external stakeholders such as regulators and local communities.
In another example, the suitability of as-installed conditions relative to the designs can be assured by comparing scans of the physical as-built environment (taken by either 3D lasers or regular 360-degree photogrammetry) with digital building information models.
Turning to safety, meanwhile, BIM models can be used to simulate construction sequences and to identify any clashes or safety hazards which are likely to occur during construction.
These can then be compared with safe work method statements (SWMS) to ensure that all potential hazards have been accounted for through the relevant SWMSs.
However, the report highlights that challenges remain.
As things currently stand in Australia, much of the information which is relevant for projects is disconnected and is not available to stakeholders in readily usable form.
At a broader level, the report notes that whilst many state government and industry bodies are pursuing useful initiatives, Australia does not have a nationally consistent approach to promote uptake of technology from a viewpoint of supporting construction quality and safety.
Sumit Oberoi, Industry Strategy Manager at Autodesk Construction, said the importance of managing quality and safety should not be underestimated.
“Since early 2015, the conversation about construction quality and safety has centred on compliance and enforcement,” Oberoi said.
“However, the apparent shortcomings detected in Sydney’s Opal Tower and Melbourne’s Docklands Lacrosse Towers highlighted the need for better capture of information and audit trails.”
Dominik Holzer, report author and Associate Professor in Digital Architectural Design at the University of Melbourne, said the role of technology in managing quality and safety should not be underestimated.
“Technology primes construction companies for risk prevention and establishing safety barriers. Augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 4D planning and BIM, alongside other digital tools help determine the potential for risk at a site and can automate the detection of potential issues throughout the build process,” Holzer said.
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