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DigiRAB research project develops digital solutions for safe construction sites

Press release   •   Jun 29, 2020 11:17 CEST

The digital solutions from the DigiRAB research project can contribute to a significant and sustained increase in occupational safety on construction sites. image credits: Ed. Züblin AG
  • Project partners developed digital assistance systems for collaborative planning, management and training in occupational safety
  • DigiRAB solutions improve occupational safety on the construction site
  • BIM extension for hazard prevention, real-time warning system with RFID technology and realistic VR teaching modules

The digitalisation of processes and the use of smart technologies offer the opportunity for a significant and sustained increase in occupational safety on construction sites. These are the findings of the joint research project DigiRAB – Safe Work on the Digitalised Construction Site. Coordinated by project lead Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), project partners ZÜBLIN, Topcon, thinkproject and Selectronic had been working on the development of a cloud-based digital platform for the collaborative planning, training and management of occupational safety on construction sites since April 2017. DigiRAB was funded by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the European Social Fund (ESF) as part of the Future of Work research programme. German occupational insurance association for the construction trade BG BAU and construction site service provider HILTI were involved in the project as associate partners.

The form in which to publish the project results is still under discussion. The concluding event that had been planned for 19 March at the STRABAG group training workshop in Bebra had to be cancelled due to the Covid pandemic.

Digital technology to reduce the risk of accidents in construction

Falls from heights. Accidents with construction equipment and machinery. Improper handling and use of power tools. In the construction industry, workers are regularly exposed to higher levels of risk than in many other industries. “Significantly more than 100,000 occupational accidents are still registered on German construction sites every year. DigiRAB has helped find digital solutions to significantly reduce this high risk of accidents in the construction industry,” says RUB project manager Dr. Jochen Teizer from the Department of Computing in Engineering. In the three Task Areas (TAs) of Safe Planning (1), Proactive Warning (2) and Personalised Learning and Training (3), DigiRAB has used the new opportunities from the increasing digitalisation of construction processes to systematically improve occupational safety in construction. The result of the three-year project period is a comprehensive assistance system for health and safety coordinators in the construction industry that combines and integrates digital planning for hazard prevention, automated warning, reporting and evaluation of near-accidents in real time, and personalised VR (virtual reality) applications for realistic safety training.

“All of the partners in this research project have made a major contribution to the integration of occupational safety in the BIM concept and the first successful approaches to implementation. It is our duty to protect the workers on our construction sites in the best possible way using the latest technologies,” emphasises Wolfgang Bücken, Business Development Manager and DigiRAB project manager at Topcon. “Currently, the possibilities of digitalisation for planning and implementing occupational safety in construction projects are not yet being used consistently. With DigiRAB we show ways in which the potential of Building Information Modelling (BIM) and LEAN.Construction can also be leveraged for occupational safety,” explains Dr. Ian Quirke, who heads the DigiRAB project at ZÜBLIN Subdivision Mitte.

BIM tools for safe construction

For the digital planning of occupational health and safety (TA 1), the DigiRAB partners developed tools to generate BIM content for safe construction as a basis for decision-making for construction project participants. This involves, on the one hand, a new rule-checking algorithm that analyses existing BIM models and provides users with rule-based suggestions for necessary occupational safety measures (e.g. fall protection) and, on the other hand, a semi-automatic 4D safety and health protection plan including digital risk assessment as well as the further development of construction site facility planning derived from both innovations. The new tools were implemented as extensions to the BIM management software DESITE MD from thinkproject, which was used in the project as the basis and connecting link for all three DigiRAB Task Areas.

To improve occupational safety in construction site operations, the research project developed a digital warning system with RFID technology (TA 2) based on the mobile Person Detection System (PDS) from Selectronic. The warning system uses sensors on the construction machines to generate a circular signal field, with three freely configurable proximity zones, that interacts with the personal transmitters of the construction site personnel and warns them with a visual and acoustic signal in case of danger. The system involved the complete redevelopment of a TFT display. Also conceivable is intervening in the bus system of the construction machines in order to automatically slow or stop the equipment in case of danger. An interface from Topcon records the data from hazardous events in real time. These data are then supplemented by the geolocation and linked to the BIM software for documentation and analysis via a cloud solution.

VR simulations to provide realistic visualisation of dangers

Occupational safety training has so far been very theoretical; practical training is complex and, for safety reasons, usually remains within narrow limits. Under the DigiRAB project, the RUB Department of Computing in Engineering and the Department of Information and Technology Management used digital technology to create a completely new option for practical occupational safety training (TA 3). Specially developed VR and AV (augmented virtuality) simulations, controlled using real handheld power tools (e.g. angle grinders), enable users to actively engage with the learning topic in a realistic manner. Dangers and risks, as well as the consequences of improper operation, are illustrated realistically, which will significantly expand the range of training options in the future. The safe handling and use of construction machinery and power tools can now be learned safely and reliably in the new virtual teaching environment, even away from the construction site.

Stuttgart-based Ed. Züblin AG has about 15,000 employees and, with an annual output of more than € 4 billion, is one of Germany’s largest construction companies. Since it was founded in 1898, ZÜBLIN has been successfully realising challenging construction projects in Germany and abroad and today is STRABAG Group’s leading brand for building construction and civil engineering. The company’s range of services comprises all construction-related tasks – from civil engineering, bridge building and tunnelling to complex turnkey construction to construction logistics, structural timber engineering and public-private partnerships. ZÜBLIN attaches great importance to partnership-based cooperation, and our ZÜBLIN teamconcept has proved its value as a successful partnering model for more than 25 years. Current construction projects of the company, a subsidiary of globally operating STRABAG SE, include EDGE East Side Berlin, the Rinsdorf and Rälsbach viaducts on the A45 motorway, and the Boyneburg Tunnel on the A44 motorway. More information is available at www.zueblin.de.

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