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While safety in the construction industry has greatly improved during the last few decades, research shows this improvement has recently reached a plateau.

Construction company leaders who already have implemented the recommended safety standards and accident prevention strategies will need a breakthrough in safety planning that surpasses existing best practices. The desired breakthrough can be achieved by adding a whole new dimension to the current planning methods, one that enables everyone on the project to easily understand exactly what will be happening ahead of time. 4-D safety planning does exactly that.

When and How to Get Started

Construction safety research recognizes that the ability to influence safety on a project is highest at the earliest stages of that project (i.e., during the design and planning phases), hence the popularity of the “safety by design” concept. However, this does not mean safety planning should be limited to just the earlier phases of the project life cycle.


On the contrary, safety planners should apply and re-apply this concept to each project phase. Every construction project is different, and challenges are often unknown until a few days before the relevant work has to be done. 4-D safety planning should be used at the early stages of the project life cycle, at the early stages of the look-ahead window, at the early stages of the workweek and at the early stages of the workday. For higher-level safety simulations, planners can use workspace and dynamic clash detection in addition to real-time visual planning. For more detailed safety simulations (e.g., power plant component replacement), planners can use digital rehearsals to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible.

Preconstruction Safety Planning

Before construction starts, teams can use the visual aspect of 4-D scheduling to efficiently review and edit the schedule, crane layouts and direction of work so that major safety issues are addressed. At this stage, workspace modeling and dynamic clash detection can be used. The main benefit comes from allowing experts to visualize the sequence and use their combined experience to edit, validate and optimize the plan in a way that best meets the overall objectives.

Look-Ahead Safety Planning

This is arguably the stage at which the safety planning breakthrough happens. Planners can update the 4-D model as they get closer to doing the work and as the constraints they will be dealing with become clearer. Small but salient 3-D icons can be used to pinpoint areas of high risk in the model, and then icons with different colors can be used for model-based recording of incidents and near misses (with attached notes and documents describing what happened and the preventive actions that should be taken in the future).

This process brings potential issues to the surface and makes the entire team aware of the past and potential future risks on the project.

Weekly/Daily Safety Planning

This type of safety planning usually accompanies the daily huddle on fast-track industrial projects or projects with high levels of prefabrication. The concept of a digital rehearsal is used; it is common to model the exact movement of each piece of equipment with a high level of spatial accuracy.

D-TechGraphic2Choosing the Right 4-D Planning Tool

Several factors should be considered when choosing the right 4-D planning tool.

  • Design model interoperability. The 4-D planning tool must be able to import the contractors’ design models and preferably retain all the metadata assigned to the objects in the model.
  • The planning workflow. If the safety planners want to use a schedule that was prepared using a software system other than the 4-D planning tool, the latter must be interoperable with the scheduling software and must be able to bi-directionally synchronize with updated versions of the schedule without losing any work or being exceedingly time-consuming. On the other hand, if the safety planners want to create their own schedules within the 4-D planning tool (e.g., based on pull planning sessions), then the tool must have a reliable scheduling engine along with the 3-D visualization capabilities.
  • Equipment and temporary works. The 4-D planning tool must be able to show when and where equipment and temporary works will be placed onsite and how this affects the project’s work flow. It’s also preferred that the tool shows how the equipment moves through the site and not solely the initial and final positions.
  • Safety data management. If the planners want to record safety incidents and near misses in the model within the 4-D planning tool, then the tool must be able to support that.

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