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Embracing technology to enhance safety

Embracing technology to enhance safety

 “Zero Accident” is a vision broadly shared by the entire construction industry, and yet our relentless efforts have been undermined by the occurrence of fatal construction accidents, claiming approximately 20 lives per year over the past two decades. To cope with this unsatisfactory and pressing situation, everyone in the industry has to accelerate its reform efforts to enhance site safety. This can be achieved not only by the application of innovative technologies, but also upholding the “Life First” principle among all industry stakeholders. Both elements, which complement to each other, are essential to achieving this long-standing goal.

Upholding safety first

With this in mind, the Construction Industry Council (CIC) re-launched the “Safety Talk” on 8 April, aiming at further enhancing safety awareness and attitudes among students from the Hong Kong Institute of Construction (HKIC). Every month, we invite students to come together to mourn the construction workers who have lost their lives in fatal construction accidents as well as to reflect on the possible causes of these accidents. Attended by more than 10 students from the supervision course, the talk on 8 April invited Ir KAN Jun, a CIC council member, and Mr. CHAN Lok-chai, President of the Registered Specialist Trade Contractors Federation, as guest speakers.

In the sharing, Ir KAN Jun highlighted that construction workers must say “No” to unsafe working conditions. He explained that many accidents were caused by low levels of alertness among construction workers, such as insufficient knowledge of new working environments or insufficient training prior to commencing work on site. In view of this, President CHAN suggested that contractors should organise regular safety seminars on sites that emphasise the importance of thinking twice before taking action by showing workers the grief an incorrect decision brings to their families.

(Left) HKIC students paid silent tribute to the construction workers who have lost their lives in fatal construction. (Right) from left, Ir KAN Jun, Chairman Ir Thomas HO and Mr. CHAN Lok-chai shared views on how to enhance site safety.

I started my career as an intern several decades ago. For the first few years, I was assigned to stationing on site where I witnessed some workers see themselves as a “hero”, meaning that they rely on their experience to take risks, such as bypassing working platforms or safety belts at work. And yet, we should have zero tolerance to accidents. To change workers’ behaviours, the industry must teach workers to be constantly vigilant, including saying “No” to danger, and pointing out problems and potential hazards as they occur. If all members of the industry can do their parts in reinforcing site safety, the “Life First” culture can fully take root.

Three directions to implement technology

Earlier this year, the CIC commissioned a consultant to conduct a study on the time, cost and quality of project management with reference to management in Singapore and the United Kingdom. It is estimated that workers can be reduced by 7,000 to 8,000 by applying Building Information Modeling (BIM) to all Hong Kong projects, applying Modular Integrated Construction (MiC) and Multi-Trade Integrated Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing (MiMEP) can reduce worker numbers by 15,000 to 20,000, and a further reduction of 4,000 to 5,000 by use of other digital platforms. The industry is now facing manpower shortages and an ageing worker pool. To cope with the forecasted $300 billion annual construction output, the industry has to step up reform efforts in three directions, including:

1. Offsite manufacturing - mass production of modules at factories;

2. Multi-trade Integration - pre-integration of modules and M&E fit-out;

3. Plug and Play - quick assembly on site.

In order to achieve a complete digital transformation, we believe that the construction industry should not only rely on individual enterprises or professionals, but make a concerted effort by all industry stakeholders to implement technologies in all aspects in operations. Last month, I visited three large scale construction sites with Ir Albert CHENG, Executive Director of CIC. During the visits, we were glad to see the dedicated efforts made by the engineering teams for applying innovative technologies at all levels. Such approaches help to boost productivity, efficiency, quality, and more importantly, improve site safety. They are exemplary references for the industry.

MiC enhances safety

The Multi-welfare Services Complex in Kwu Tung North is Shui On Construction and Materials Limited’s (SOCAM) first MiC project, and was applied to 42% of the total construction floor area. The MiC approach enables most of the work processes and interior finishes to be completed at a factory in the Mainland, then delivered and installed at the site. Such an approach effectively reduces on-site processes, manpower and risks of overhead work. The project has also applied a vast amount of innovative technologies, including Building Information Modeling (BIM), Design for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA), artificial intelligence (AI), Digital Works Supervision System (DWSS), virtual reality (VR), robots, and so on. Additionally, it has incorporated advanced technologies developed by SOCAM’s in-house research and development (R&D) unit. For instance, AI and automation functions were added to the remotely controlled mechanical trucks, turning these manually operated trucks into automatic material carriers for heavy load transportation. This initiative helped to reduce the chance of worker injuries caused by heavy lifting. In addition, safety performance was continuously enhanced through the adoption of face recognition technology, smart helmet systems and safety management systems.

(Left) Workers demonstrating the assembly of prefabricated modules. (Right) AI automatic material carrier.

Freddy LEE, Chief Executive Officer of SOCAM, shared that integrated modules completed with finishes and manufactured in a factory minimise the amount of stacking materials on site, assist warehouse management and create a safe and clean site. He remarked that the inheritance of the construction industry by the younger generation is vital to the sustainable development of the industry. In view of this, the Group is willing to invest resources and provide a platform to their employees to conduct R&D so as to encourage his colleagues not only to follow, but to take the lead.

A smart site with adoption of digital technology

Undertaken by Gammon Construction Limited, the Works Contract (L2) of the Lyric Theatre Complex and Extended Basement for the West Kowloon Cultural District adopted the Integrated Digital Project Delivery (IDPD) scheme. Located at the construction site, the smart digital control centre equipped with a Modern Method of Construction (MMC) system allows the team to remotely oversee all aspects of the prefabricated unit factory, including production processes, delivery and acceptance inspection through real-time monitoring and access to information. The project team implemented digital management technology in every aspect of the project, resulting in a smart construction process.

The building of the Lyric Theatre Complex involves many complex curves and an irregular design. At the initial design phase, the team adopted BIM technology to integrate engineering drawings and formulate detailed planning of Design for Safety (DfS). With the application of 3D, 4D or 5D models, the complex structure of the building and its M&E design components are clearly illustrated, allowing the team to visualise the building process and identify every foreseeable risk at the design stage. For example, if detectors or sensors are placed in a high position, workers will find it difficult to conduct maintenance. The project team can discuss these foreseeable risks with consultants and clients early to solve the problem.

(Left) Gammon’s Smart Digital Control Centre at L2 site. (Middle) A temporary factory was set up at site to handle some preset sequence of work. (Right) About 60 to 70% of the project has applied DfMA and MIMEP practices.

About 60 to 70% of the project has applied DfMA and MiMEP practices, including many large scale MiMEP examples. One of them is the 1.2-metre diameter pipes that leverage BIM modelling to ensure efficiency, accuracy and quality. The pipes are pre-fabricated at a factory, then delivered to the construction site for assembly one by one, like building blocks. Another example is the large iron frames of the ceilings, which were produced modularly at a factory, making the building process completely welding free. This helps to minimise the frequency of overhead works, effectively enhancing site safety.

Benefits of full BIM application 

Built by Hip Hing Construction, Kai Tak Sports Park (KTSP) is a complex, mega-scale project that comprises three major sports venues. At the planning stage, the team had already decided to fully apply BIM in all aspects of the project with the aim to enhance efficiency. The focal point of the Sports Park is the Main Stadium, which comprises of a 13,600-ton steel roof structure, a 2,600-ton retractable roof, and installation of over 3,200 prefabricated units. The roof structure is supported by four sets of steel trusses, of which the main truss spans 180 metres, all manufactured and assembled in the Mainland and delivered in batches for assembly on site. Once the assembly work is completed, lifting operations and installation of the fixed roof can begin. The team applied BIM to simulate every lifting movement of the jacking tower, including mechanical operation, positioning and installation sequences. This approach helps to plan the lifting space and positioning in advance, to avoid danger caused by collisions and clashes of intersected machinery.

The main steel truss comprises large steel circular hollow sections, all prefabricated and welded in Mainland factories, then shipped to Hong Kong. As the site needs to be a temporary unloading dock, the team used 3D laser technology to scan the site and simulate the move-in placement of the main truss into the Main Stadium with the aim of identifying possible obstacles. In addition, each prefabricated component needs to be connected precisely and accurately. Therefore, 3D laser scanning is employed to capture raw field data for building a point cloud for inserting into the BIM model. The initiative previews any deviation between the 3D model and the design, enabling necessary revision of the design in time.

To build the bowl-shaped seating area of the Main Stadium, the project team first created an “exploded-view drawing” incorporating all the integrated modules and illustrating every aspect of the design interface through a three-dimensional model. Whether it is prefabricated parts, air-conditioning system or installation of fireproof boards, information can be clearly previewed through the model. This approach facilitates communication with different subcontractors on the sequence and method of installation for each work process, so that thorough consideration of construction process is included in the design phase.

(Left) Hip Hing project team using BIM to simulate the open and close condition of the KTSP main stadium retractable roof. (Middle) DfMA is implemented to manufacture mega steel modules. (Right) Applying BIM to simulate every lifting movement can avoid danger caused by collisions and clashes of intersected machinery.

These three sites demonstrate the incredible efforts made by the project teams on integrating safety and technology. I truly appreciate the professionalism and creativity of the young engineers. As a token of appreciation, the CIC awarded these outstanding engineers with tablet computers at each visit, hoping that they will contribute more to the industry.

I am pleased to see that our proposed direction for industry development, especially the application of technology and sustainable development driven by young, professional talent, has gradually taken shape and a range of initiatives have already been implemented. The changes we are proposing also echo the Government’s "Construction 2.0" strategy, which advocates “innovation”, “professionalisation” and “revitalisation” to reform the construction sector. As success is already in sight, we will continue to lean on these core values to redefine the industry.

Ir HO On-sing, Thomas

Last Updated: 2022-05-03 10:53:20