Data and information sharing for safety and environmental benefit


It’s vital that data and information important for safety and the environment is effectively managed throughout the lifecycle of assets, from design to through to decommissioning.

The need for a transparent record of safety information was made evident by the Grenfell fire tragedy. Dame Judith Hackitt’s subsequent review, Building a Safer Future, proposed the idea of a ‘golden thread’ of safety information.

Collaboration between experts in diverse fields is essential in creating this golden thread. Together they can make relevant data about an asset accessible to those with legal responsibilities and the public.

In this Hazards Forum webinar, three experts explore ways to enhance data-sharing practices in the pursuit of safer and more environmentally conscious decision-making.

Marc McBride – Chair and also Principal Inspector for Nuclear Safety at the Office for Nuclear Regulation

Marc’s previous work as a safety engineer responsible for ageing gas assets made him aware of the important duty of engineers to maintain accurate, accessible records of their work, covering not just the ‘what’ (drawings, data sheets, etc), but the ‘why’ as well (basis of design, safety case etc).

Marc says ‘The basic requirement to protect and share data and information is there in most sectors, whether in regulations, or supporting standards and guidance.  However in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy, the high risk building sector has gone to a new level in establishing the ‘golden thread’ requirements and putting in place the practical means to achieve this.  Other sectors can learn from this.’

The event was hosted by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE).

Carl Collins – Head of Digital Engineering at the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE)

 ‘A standards-based approach to sharing hazard and risk information’


Standards are not just bureaucratic checkboxes; they are pivotal tools that ensure clarity, efficiency, and accuracy in the sharing and interpretation of hazard and risk information. This is emphatically the case in the construction industry with its complex supply chains.

Carl explains the three core benefits of using standards:

  • Consistency – allows aggregation of information;
  • Best practice – consensus of expert understanding; and
  • Interoperability – a way to exchange information between tools, platforms and programs.

The construction industry uses a range of national and international standards from the British Standards Institution (BSI), the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN) and the International Standards Organisation (ISO).

Carl highlights the importance of:

  • ISO 19650 – an international standard for managing information over the whole life cycle of a built asset using building information modelling (BIM).
  • PAS 1192 Part 6 – a specification for collaborative sharing and use of structured health and safety information using BIM (actually a “process” being pushed to a full international standard).
  • ISO 16739 Part 1 – Industry Foundation Classes (IFC) for data sharing in the construction and facility management industries. Carl describes this as ‘a fairly open language … deliberately designed to be as accessible to all platforms as possible.’
  • ISO 12006 Part 2 – a framework for the development of built environment classification systems.
  • Uniclass – the UK version of the ISO 12006 Part 2 classification system.

Together, these provide layers of classification – and methods of creating classifications – that work in the international supply chain.  Carl says, ‘The way information is exchanged is one thing, but how that information is held is really important.’

He explains the importance of languages that ‘give us a set of properties that can hold information in a structured way’.  He highlights the Uniclass classification table in particular . ‘We can have classifications about products, systems and project management.  This applies a classification value to the containers that can hold risk and hazard information. So, we can have a risk schedule and we can apply the classification value to that so that even if it’s misnamed, mislabelled, or misfiled, it can be found purely by looking for that classification value. And again, if it’s from international supply chains and may not be in English, this classification value or the national classification value can be found and can be matched to this Uniclass classification system.’

Carl says a holistic approach is needed to bring this information together. ‘To do that, we need to have non-proprietary forms of data that a tier one contractor, for example, can then bring together from their long and extended supply chains and aggregate this into a whole.

So, you can look at an asset in its entirety.  The standard that facilitates this is BS 1192-4 [Collaborative production of information – Fulfilling employer’s information exchange requirements using COBie. Code of practice]’.

COBie is the ‘Construction Operations Building Information Exchange’, which is a non-proprietary data format.  Carl explains, ‘It’s based on the IFC language, and traditionally it’s viewed in a spreadsheet – the easiest way for us to be able to look at this information – although it is machine-readable. And when we’re looking at larger construction projects, that really is the only way to deal with the huge quantities of information that are exchanged.’

Carl goes on to explain how classifications and languages can be used to load risk data into images used in CAD, and 3D object modelling, to be shown to clients in a virtual walkthrough.  He says, ‘Once you’ve created this, then we can start to extract this into the exchange forms of information, such as COBie. Or you could export it to a simple spreadsheet, or a CSV file, or you could export it to more technically competent platforms if that’s what is being used on a particular project. From this creation of the data, we can then start to exchange that data.’

Jade Cohen – Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer of Qualis Flow (QFlow), a company using digital technology to help construction companies manage their social and environmental impacts.

‘Decarbonising construction with a photograph’


Having data about every lorry load or pallet of materials that leaves or enters a construction site can yield huge long-term economic and environmental benefits but, as Jade Cohen of QFlow notes, this requires a ‘lot of people locking together’.  Jade explains how her company uses data to avoid waste and reduce carbon emissions in the construction industry.

The construction industry contributes 11 per cent of carbon emissions. Lots of money and materials get wasted every year, due to over-ordering, inefficiencies and different incentives at the end of project life. QFlow discovered that only 17.5% of projects are fully compliant with waste duty of care regulations, and an average of 1 in 3 waste transfer notes (WTNs) are incorrect. 

Jade explains that, although the right decisions are made at the design stage, the realities of construction mean a huge amount of data about construction waste and carbon emissions is being lost.  ‘We’re getting very good as an industry at designing buildings as a whole or assets and infrastructure. We’re also pretty good at designing for low carbon or more sustainable solutions as part of that phase.  But the reality is that when we hit construction, things change. Materials are no longer available. They have to be swapped out. Trades and subcontractors end up making different decisions to achieve the programme and project goals and performance.’

Jade goes on, ‘It’s primarily a data-driven problem but collecting data on every item delivered to a live construction site can be a very laborious task. Goods arrive accompanied by a delivery ticket (or not), which is usually a paper-based docket, or its PDF equivalent. The same goes for waste movements and skip movements.  A lot of site teams aren’t necessarily equipped to actually capture the data in the most efficient way.’

In the first instance, QFlow focused on making data collection around these material waste flows as simple as possible.  Jade explains, ‘While the supply chain is pretty disaggregated and siloed in some respects, actually, the last thing that’s needed is a new system and a new way of reporting.’So, QFlow uses universally understood technology at the front end, with mobile phone pictures taken of delivery notes on site. These are sent to QFlow to do the heavy lifting – interpreting the collected data using optical character recognition, then sharing it with existing stakeholders, in expected, understood formats, without creating new silos.

Jade says this allow teams to recognise and take action on incorrect materials before they are used in the build.  ‘If, for example, an incorrect material or product arrives and doesn’t comply with certain design specifications or project requirements, then those site teams will be notified and it means that they’ve got a better chance of acting and removing those products from site before they’re actually installed in the final build.

’The intention is to make construction site data collection more simple, but also to provide better understanding of the high risks that could arise through the project at any given point in time.  She says, ‘We can start to have a much better picture on a project-by-project basis and also across the entire portfolio of where these risks lie – without relying on those teams on the ground to be proactively reporting back those risks and instead spending time on mitigating those risks when they do arise and being able to manage them in the right way.’

Qflow has also seen a saving, not just in terms of time spent, understanding and collecting this data, but also in enabling teams to be more practical and responsive to the risks associated with the non-compliance of certain documentation.Arguably, effective data collection technology used on a building’s construction site will also pay off when the building is demolished or reused.

 Jade says Qflow has a vision of ‘urban mining’, whereby the built environment is seen as banks of materials, with resources to be drawn from, not assets to be replaced.  She says, ‘We typically do pre-demolition surveys and we try to identify materials and goods and products within buildings that can be reused for further purposes. With that comes a series of additional challenges with regards to the circularity of those materials. However … this requires collaboration across lots of different, not just softwares, but logistical hubs and organisations that have a desire to make this happen.’

Jade goes on, ‘This is a concept whereby we can look at the existing build stock around us. We can understand the embedded value of those buildings or pieces of infrastructure by understanding the potential recoverability of certain materials in those buildings… This is a vision that requires lots of different pieces of the puzzle coming together with regards to how that data landscape looks.  From a QFlow perspective, this really starts with having really solid data collection and an understanding of what goes into those buildings during the construction phase before we even go through use and maintenance and then eventually come to the end of a building’s lifecycle.’ 

Gordon Crick – Health and Safety Inspector with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
‘The Case for Sharing Construction Health and Safety Data and Information – Share Data Save Lives’

‘Share data to save lives’ is a concise premise and one that research has increasingly shown to be true, says Gordon Crick.  He has been focusing on the ways digital technology can improve health and safety conditions for workers on site.

As part of a technology and innovation team in the Construction Division of the HSE, Gordon speaks on behalf of the Discovering Safety Programme. This is led by the HSE but externally funded through the Lloyd’s Register Foundation.  Gordon says, ‘My subtitle, Sharing data, saving lives, is taken from the title of a project we completed last year in 2022, funded by the Regulators’ Pioneer Fund. We looked at the case for sharing construction, health and safety data. We started by creating and testing hypotheses. We looked at two types of enterprise, a non-sharing enterprise against a sharing enterprise.’

With HSE data focusing on accidents, Gordon says, ‘We were able to an extent to look at the cost of accidents and how these might be associated with good or bad design risk management, good or bad data sharing.’  While acknowledging it was a complicated picture, he says ‘Our view is that over and over again, what we’ve seen is that the organisations that use information best during planning and design are the organisations that create the best conditions in which workers thrive and are less likely to have accidents. We believe there’s a strong logic model which creates the culture of sharing, the culture of openness, the culture of curiosity around how to prevent accidents, which will be associated with the sharing organisation.’

He found that, although account stakeholders were pretty comfortable and confident in their ability to manage data, they had less belief that they would actually benefit from it.

He says, ‘And part of our mission … is to raise the expectation, to raise the view that actually sharing data can lead to public and private good and prevent accidents on site.’

Gordon also says semi-automatic systems of data sharing were preferred over the introduction of sophisticated AI.  ‘What we’re looking at is the use of data at an early stage in the project, which can be used in such a way that it supports good decision-making by the people who are responsible, the risk owners at every stage of a project.  We are a fragmented industry with an immensely complicated and sometimes convoluted supply chain.’

Making the economic case for data sharing, he explains how health and safety incidents cost the economy a billion pounds a year. He demonstrates how, before the London Olympics in 2012, there was a sustained period of a few years of improvement of health and safety performance and this led to savings in the economy.  So, even a fairly conservative improvement in standards through the use of digital technology and data, could result in actual savings across the board that ‘will be very considerable and the relief in human loss, cost, suffering would be considerable’.

One case study he explains is the Construction Risk Library Project, drawn from the Discovery Safety Programme.  Colours and tabs are used on models to identify risks, which can then be described using data.  The Discovery Safety Programme has identified six pieces of relevant data, which are: the activity in which the risk will eventuate; the location; the construction scope and building element associated with that activity; the risk category; and the risk factor – the thing which triggers the risk.  Putting those six pieces of data together allows the risk to be described in its context, using coded data. This brings data that is the language of the designer, such as construction scope, together with the language of the health and safety person, which is the risk and the risk factor.  Gordon says this ‘helps to combine these two worlds and enable the information manager to actually have a big role in integrating thinking around risk.’

As well as identifying a problem through codifying the risk, the construction risk library also creates treatment prompts.  Gordon explains, ‘These are little statements, phrases which describe something which the designer might do about that problem. In that way, we’re not only identifying a problem, we’re actually looking and seeing what we can do about it.’

Gordon notes that standardisation of data is going to be a key element.  ‘Standardisation really at source by the people who are providing the data or at the trusted intermediary or overseeing organisation and user experience.’  He stresses the use of anonymised, standardised and generalised data.  ‘We’re interested in the low hanging fruit and what can easily and readily be shared without too much pain and difficulty, but which has the potential to improve standards on site … if you can turn your culture around to one which is a sharing and open culture, then my conviction is that together in the industry, we can prevent loss and we will save lives.’


Joining speaker Gordon Crick on the Q and A panel are: 

Varun Soni on behalf of Carl Collins. Varun is a member of the Building Regulations Advisory Committee golden thread working group, and a partner and Building Information Modelling manager at Calfordseaden.

Serena Ward on behalf of Jade Cohen. Serena is a sustainability professional, having worked on CrossRail and HS2. She supports QFlow’s clients to deliver net zero buildings and reduce carbon across the construction industry.

1) What are the blockers to sharing data effectively and what role can standards play in that?

Gordon – there are many blockers, the most obvious being ‘around language and the simple inability to use terms which are truly interoperable and arrive at coded data’. He hopes the development of Uniclass, will be ‘a great step in that direction’. Another blocker, ‘particularly in the design phase of projects, is a culture-based approach, which doesn’t value and invest enough in risk data and therefore doesn’t take it to the next level of “how can we actually use this data to create efficiencies more broadly than just an immediate application on site”.’

Varun – inherent cultural change within the industry is necessary, as emphasised by Dame Judith, but for that change to happen we need to simplify language and simplify what’s going on.’ He says, ‘There needs to be an inherent understanding from a client perspective on what they want to see in terms of risks during a project, after a project.’ He says standards need the right focus: ‘ISO 19650, Part 6 is a good opportunity for people within our industry to be able to say, actually, is this speaking a language that we (a) understand, and (b) is it tackling the issues that we need it to tackle?’

2) Will ‘golden thread’ legislation and regulation make a difference in driving sharing of data that is relevant to health and safety?

Varun – ‘If you look at the Construction Playbook that was set out last year from the government, there is a push towards following things like the UK BIM framework.’ But he says BIM is also about focusing on better information management. He says that, in getting people to follow a golden thread, ‘we don’t want to force them into only using a specific product or a specific method. We want to give them the freedom to be able to do it in a way that will work for them. You’re going to have providers that are going to be able to spend millions, others that are only going to be able to spend hundreds. We’ve got to make it a system where we are including everyone and getting them on that journey’ 

Gordon – ‘Let’s be quick to innovate and slow to legislate. I think legislation is a blunt tool and it has a very, very long tail … we need to win over the hearts and minds of those who control the data to actually invest in systems which are going to make end-to-end sharing of data across the project … There are massive efficiencies to be gained through good use of technology, but to legislate early would be a massive mistake on some of these issues.’

3) What are the steps towards realising the ambition of a ‘bank of materials’ for the existing building stock, and therefore the opportunity to reuse those materials in the interests of the environment?

Serena – ‘If you keep it simple, pick one material and say, “Yep, we’re just going to create a spreadsheet with these few materials and reuse them” then it can happen.  She says another key enabler is a marketplace where items can be shared between different contractors. The golden thread is key in making people confident in re-using items, she says. ‘We can really start to see buildings as material banks. Simple data sharing and that golden thread are really key.’

Watch the event video here

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