Can Virtual Reality Make Construction Safer?

Is virtual reality safety training a more effective training method for the construction industry?

Can virtual reality safety training improve construction safety and safety training retention?
Can virtual reality safety training improve construction safety and safety training retention?
NextWave Safety Solutions

If you're looking for some hot topics in construction, safety and technology have to be two of the hottest. So let's talk about the role technology is playing in safety training. Specifically, safety training using virtual reality.

Virtual reality training is nothing new. With virtual reality, workers can train in a simulated, life-like environment. Airplane simulators have been around for quite some time to train pilots. And construction equipment training simulators are becoming more prevalent and accepted in the construction industry. And now, virtual reality is starting to pop up in safety training. So how does virtual reality (VR) play into construction safety training? Is it good method? Is it bad? Will it be accepted?

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What are the benefits?

There are a lot of pluses to using virtual reality training. It can be more engaging compared to the traditional lecture or video presentation. The younger generation might be more inclined to participate and be more invested in virtual reality training. Let's face it, the upcoming generations grew up on technology. They are more tech-savvy. They would likely rather test their skills in a VR simulator than sit and be lectured to (although a well-rounded safety training program will incorporate more than just VR).

It's safer. VR allows for training of high-risk scenarios without the costs or dangerous end results of a real-life situation. In addition, VR training provides the opportunity for repetitive practice in a safe environment.

VR training also allows workers to take responsibility for their own skill development. This may not be a good thing if you have really unmotivated workers. However, if you're looking to develop self-sufficient employees who can make decisions on their own, having them take control of their own safety training can be a benefit.

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Most VR training simulators can also record data allowing employers to see how the employees are progressing and any specific areas that may need more attention or additional training.

Many VR training modules can also be customized to align the simulated environment and the safety training to specific worksites or contractor needs.

What's the downside?

But VR safety training does have some considerations. Not everyone learns in the same way. While VR training is great for the hands-on learners, those who learn best by listening, watching or reading may not benefit from VR training.

Another possible downside? VR training could cause some employees to feel dizzy or nauseous.

VR safety training in practice

VR training is already present in the construction industry. It may be more popular for equipment operator training, but VR's use in safety training is gaining traction. There are multiple companies providing VR safety training programs, including NextWave Safety Solutions.

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NextWave offers VR-enhanced safety training "designed to reproduce practical training in a virtual environment," says NextWave CEO Lorenzo Gallo. " Through life-like VR experiences, learners are able to hone skills like scaffold safety at 23 stories high, operating a crane on a foggy morning, or practicing for an active shooter scenario situations that are too difficult, expensive or dangerous to prepare for in the real world."

NextWave offers its VR training modules as support for its active course schedule, on a per trainee basis at one of its physical academy sites on the East Coast, and as a software license for in-house training.

"As an immersive training simulation, VR-enhanced training gets learners out from behind a desk to actually participate in and engage with their own educational experience," Gallo adds. "It confronts them with virtual dangers prior to them experiencing the real thing, readying them like never before for the numerous hazards they encounter on construction sites. Ultimately, the use of virtual training can lead to a better trained workforce and a safer worksite. This translates to greater productivity due to fewer incidents and therefore a reduction in workers’ compensation claims, stop work orders and even insurance premiums."

Research backs it up...maybe

A 2013 study done on construction safety training using immersive virtual reality found some interesting results. While the research did conclude VR training created a significant advantage for some of the construction work like cast-in-situ concrete work, the results did not show an advantage for general site safety training. The study also concluded that VR training was more effective than traditional methods when it came to maintaining trainees' attention and concentration, and VR training was more effective over time.

One other interesting result from the study was that trainees maintained a high level of alertness for the entire period in the virtual reality training environment while those trainees in the normal training environment were unable to maintain concentration beyond the first hour.

Is VR safety training the way of the future?

What do you think? Would you try VR safety training with your construction employees? Why or why not?

Have you tried virtual reality training in your construction company already? How did your employees feel about VR training? Did you think it provided better training and results compared to traditional methods?

Let us know. We'd love to get some real-world use feedback from our readers!