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Building Information Modelling (BIM) and professional indemnity insurance

Background

The concept of BIM has been in existence for some time now following it’s migration from the US to the UK.

The RIBA state:

"There are many definitions of Building Information Modelling (BIM), but it is simply the means by which everyone can understand a building through the use of a digital model. Modelling an asset in digital form enables those who interact with the building to optimise their actions, resulting in a greater whole life value for the asset."

The main characteristics of BIM are:

  • 3D modelling beyond CAD drawings to incorporate non-graphical data e.g. costs and programming data.
  • Information compiling being shared throughout the construction team.
  • Ability to update shared information even after post completion.

The hope among many in the construction sector is that the technological advances of BIM (such as early detection of design clashes) combined with greater collaboration between parties will result in the reduction of risk on projects.

There are four levels of BIM from 0 to 3 with the aim being that all centrally procured public sector projects be using BIM to level 2 by 2016. The Scottish Government have also recommended in appropriate circumstances the same level 2 approach by 2017 for Scottish public sector construction projects.

BIM level 2

BIM level 2, or the “federated model” as it is sometimes referred, requires each participant to develop their own models which are then shared with the project model, with appropriate audit trails in place.

To date the professional indemnity (PI) insurance market has been fairly relaxed by BIM level 2 with no specific premium implications or coverage restrictions. Insurers gain comfort from the fact that consultants have robust audit trails in place, with clear lines of responsibility and change control systems.

We are starting to see specific BIM clauses within construction appointments which consultants are required to adhere to. In addition questions on renewal proposal forms around BIM are imminent.

BIM Level 3

BIM level 3 involves fuller integration with the parties to a building project working simultaneously on a centrally hosted model. In particular BIM level 3 working raises the potential to blur traditional lines of responsibility making risk allocation and transfer more challenging. It is this aspect and taking on liabilities not necessarily known at the time a job is taken on that gives insurers concern. For instance a change by one design consultant could automatically be carried through to another consultant due to the intelligent nature of the software. 

This raises the question of identifying responsibility if something goes wrong. Clearly there will be a need for full traceability and restricted access requirements to be able to identify who and when the changes were made at a later date. BIM level 3 has inevitable contractual and insurance cover implications which will require refinement and consideration going forward. In addition BIM inherently introduces IT/cyber type risks with greater electronic data and multiple parties using the model as well as safeguarding intellectual property rights over the shared information.

Single project insurance

Under BIM level 3 the joint responsibility for the design and implementation of a project should lead to more partnering contracts to reflect the multi-party nature of the collaborative design. Rather than all parties working on the project relying on their own individual PI policies, with different policy periods, limits and conditions, the obvious solution may be a Single Project Professional Indemnity policy (SPPI). Such a policy can cover all construction professionals involved in a particular project thereby avoiding the necessity of finding “the guilty party” in the event of a design error. The attractiveness of an integrated SPPI policy may well be borne from the concern that once the design contributions of different consultants are put into the BIM “melting pot” changes may be made to such design contributions. If an error cannot be attributed to a particular party then it would be difficult for any PI insurance to respond to such an error in the absence of proven liability.

Although available, SPPI policies are expensive but, they could become more prominent as the number of BIM projects increase to deal with the issues raised above.

BIM Information Manager

This is a new role created with responsibility for managing the process of information exchange and policing compliance with the protocol and security of the BIM model. The role of “Information Manager” is likely to be undertaken by the project or design lead. The role as defined under the CIC Scope of Services is not expected to cause insurers concern on the basis that all design responsibility is to remain with the design team. This is on the basis that the role is no more than a procedural check on data and limited co-ordination and not a full design check activity. If the role is to be performed by a party not responsible for the design and is beyond a simple procedural role this may cause insurers concern.

The information manager is a separate role to that of the BIM Co-Ordinator who again is likely to be the project or design lead and have design responsibility for clash detection and model co-ordination. The organisation or individuals undertaking these roles should fall within the professional activities and duties definition under a PI policy. However a condition of cover is that these activities are undertaken by a professionally qualified or technical person as defined under the terms of the PI policy, with relevant experience to undertake the particular role.

Guidance

To date we have not seen any PI policies that contain a specific exclusion for BIM working. Notwithstanding if you are about to embark on a BIM project or undertake the role of BIM Co-Ordinator or Information Manager you should disclose your involvement to your insurance broker. Ensure your broker has sufficient knowledge of these activities so that this can be imparted to your insurers. As long as you have key documents to pass through your brokers (BIM appointment, protocols and contracts) you are well placed. Questions around BIM working being requested on PI renewal proposal forms is imminent. Appointment documents should be clear to ensure that the relevant roles and responsibilities are allocated equitably. Define the rights that the client has to the project information and if re-usage is allowed then stipulate within the appointment that only for the same purpose of the original design.

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