5.2. VDC Perceptions Regarding Construction Safety
From the analysis, as shown in Figure 3
, the current perceptions of stakeholders are such that 39% of the respondents were satisfied when it comes to the use of VDC tools to improve job-site safety conditions. It was found that 21% of the respondents were dissatisfied with the rate at which these tools are being incorporated to improve construction safety.
The reason for this lack of satisfaction is rooted in the observation that as long as these technologies are not mandatory, contractors are not contractually bound to adopt and incorporate them into workflows and lifecycle processes and will follow a traditional mindset.
In the last stage of this part, respondents were asked if they had any awareness pertaining to digital tools being used to mitigate safety hazards. A total of 63% of the respondents confirmed having knowledge of how digital means can be used to improve safety. These respondents were directed toward Parts 4 and 5 of the survey, whereas people lacking this knowledge skipped these sections and moved to the last part, i.e., barriers impeding the use of technology to improve safety.
5.3. Potential of VDC Tools to Improve Safety
shows the different aspects of construction safety ranked by their perceived potential to be improved using VDC technologies. Overall, “designing of emergency and evacuation plans” and “fall-hazard prevention strategies” (RII = 86% and RII = 85%, respectively), were considered to be the most important factors that could be improved using digital design tools. Construction workers usually use their prior experience to ascertain and react to safety hazards. One of the most challenging tasks for them, therefore, is to reckon and respond when they are exposed to such threats. Hazards that are difficult to predetermine are very difficult to assuage, and this leads to flaws in the design of a safety program [59
The 3D visualization aspect of these tools helps improve traditional constructability analysis schemes, which are predominantly based on 2D-drawing-based methodologies. Traditional schemes can create confusion, as important decisions are made on inadequate information. With the advent of BIM, the constructability analysis for safety managers has become easier, and suitable mitigation strategies are now devised proactively to avoid threats.
“Hazard identification” and “safety designing and planning of temporary structures (scaffolds, stairs, and frameworks)” were ranked second, with RII = 85%. Similarly, “safety induction of workers” was ranked fifth, with RII = 84%. Ganah et al. [60
] noted that BIM is not only being widely used at the design stage but also has the potential to improve on-site safety induction, reducing probable hazards.
Since BIM is mandated in many regions of the Middle East, different studies [15
] have shown that its integration with different rule-checking algorithms and VR can help in the earlier detection of hazards. The same 3D model can be integrated with drones and RFID packages for the invigilation of workers on site. Similarly, it is possible to proactively monitor the health conditions of workers on site. The high temperatures in the GCC countries tend to cause causalities, and the application of VDC tools to active health monitoring has the potential to be very useful to ensure active on-site treatment and avoid lapses.
“Better communication between stakeholders”, “risk assessment and mitigation”, and “active site safety monitoring for critical activities” were all ranked similarly (sixth) by the stakeholders (RII = 83%). These factors are related to bridging the communication gap between stakeholders. Since it was established earlier in the research that major language differences exist between stakeholders of the construction industry, 3D visualization techniques can better identify safety hazards and enable stakeholders to avoid risk. Similarly, the language barriers in GCC countries could be minimized by VR-based safety training of workers. Pre-construction visualization training could help workers to get a feel for real-life safety hazards before construction commences. This training could enhance the hazard-determination ability of workers, showing a real-time construction environment and providing continual feedback throughout training [61
]. This has been ranked as the ninth-most-important factor that can be improved using VDC tools. Various studies have shown a significant increase in workers’ abilities to proactively detect hazards and make suitable decisions accordingly. “Emergency drills” and “analyzing confined and congested spaces” were also ranked ninth, with RII = 81%.
Factors such as “safety inspections” and “inspections of heavy equipment and machinery” were ranked in 12th place, with a RII of 80%. With the help of digital design tools, the inspection of dangerous formwork, equipment, and machinery can become very easy, without putting the lives of safety personnel at risk.
“Site layout” and “safety reports, internal and external audits” were ranked by the respondents with RII = 78%. Three-dimensional simulations can play a key role in determining actions that should be proactively taken so that particular activities can be conducted safely at the actual site. “Compliance with OSHA rules and regulations” and “toolbox talk meetings” were ranked at 16th and 17th place, with relative importance indices of 77% and 76%, respectively.
5.4. Barriers to Adopting Digital Design Tools for Construction Safety in the GCC
lists the barriers with respect to the rank obtained, according to their RII. The final devised ranking is a cumulative score for each barrier from the scores provided by individual stakeholders (clients, consultants, PMCs, prime contractors, sub-contractors, and academics). This helps to dissect the problem from each individual construction industry stakeholder’s perspective and therefore devise a suitable strategy to improve the application of technology to hazard prevention. Overall, “lack of knowledge about return on investment for VDC” was the predominant barrier in the implementation of technology to improve construction safety, with an RII of 77%. For both PMCs (79%) and prime contractors (77%), this was the major barrier to adopting digital design methodologies to improve safety. Consistent with the findings of this study, different studies [62
] of similar nature also indicated that lack of knowledge is why these technologies have not been accepted widely in industries. For clients, with an RII of 78%, “not demanded by clients” was a predominant factor impeding the use of technological advancements for construction safety. This finding is in line with the study [63
], which also indicated that the primary reason for lack of BIM implementation is “lack of demand of client”. This is because most of these initiatives are initiated by local authority bodies (RTA, Qatar Rail, and ADA), and if the technological implications are not reinforced, other stakeholders will not show an active interest in their implementation.
“Lack of knowledge about VDC” and “lack of effective training” tools were the second and third major barriers impeding the use of technology to improve job-site safety. Similar studies [64
] conducted across different regions also pointed out that lack of training was an essential issue in BIM implementation. Even though advanced research-based solutions and frameworks have been defined, most of these prototypes are in the initial stages of industrial acceptance and implementation. With the constraint of limited time, it therefore becomes a complex task of building the capacity of employees to adopt these technologies and extract their benefits.
A related barrier, “lack of guidance and standard operating procedures (SOP) for proper implementation of VDC technology for safety” was ranked in fifth place, with an RII of 72%. This shows that, primarily, the training and educational aspects of these technologies needs a push from industries in the region to promote H&S.
The difficulty of introducing new technology into existing rudimentary workflows can lead to resistance across the board among stakeholders. As per Kartam et al. [66
], the lack of management commitment to safety is one of the reasons behind the poor safety culture observed in Kuwait. This “resistance to technological adaptation” has been ranked as the sixth-most-important barrier, with an RII of 71%. According to a study by Hatem et al. [67
], the presence of older employees and people’s familiarity with existing software can prevent them from adapting to new software and tools. Similarly, “high setup, implementation, and maintenance costs” also ranked sixth in the list of barriers. It is difficult to generate VR-based simulations and manage all the equipment involved, such as unmanned aerial vehicles and drones, at the construction site. Software related to BIM is quite expensive, and with shrinking profitability and debilitating economic conditions, it becomes difficult for those in the sub-contractor stratum to invest in these technologies.
Even with the acceptance of these technologies into traditional construction workflows, a major problem in construction management is “contractual limitations” (ranked eighth). Although the benefits of these novel practices might mitigate construction safety hazards, there may also be implications for the contractual bindings of the project. It can be difficult to contractually embrace new technology because all stakeholders try to refrain from legal bindings. Other similar construction management problems include “overall poor safety culture” and “lack of standard practices” in the construction industry; both shared the eighth rank, with RII = 68%.
Although the construction industry of the GCC is well-developed and considered to be one of the most up-to-date construction industries, its safety culture is only mandated by strict restrictions set by the regulatory authorities. This safety culture could be improved if the same bodies engaged with BIM, VR, and AR tools to mitigate construction safety problems.
Finally, the “temporary nature of construction projects” (RII = 63%) was found to be a contributing barrier that can make stakeholders refrain from investing too much in these strategies.