The construction industry is one of the biggest sectors today, but it’s also among the most dangerous. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that 38 percent of all construction deaths in 2016 were the result of falls. This comes as no surprise, since 65 per cent of construction workers conduct work on scaffolds.
The need to make construction sites more secure is evident, and technology is once again here to assist us. Take virtual reality (VR) tech as an example. VR holds great value for construction companies, as it offers realistic training, protecting both employees and expensive equipment.
ASSP’s training module allows workers to detect potential hazards in VR
For instance, the American Society of Safety Professionals (ASSP) developed the VR Fall Protection Experience. It’s basically a VR application thanks to which workers who perform work at great heights can train in a completely safe environment. The experience, which lasts three to five minutes, simulates a hazardous construction environment and trains employees how to operate in such an environment. Once workers put on a headset, they can start navigating the rooftop of a two-storey building and detecting potential hazards, such as a detached rooftop fan or skylight. Based on their observations, they’re required to create their own fall protection system and see it in action in VR.
As Thomas Kramer, the vice chair of the ANSI Z359 Accredited Standards Committee and one of the people involved in the development of this innovation, explains, “We created a good cross-section of hazards that users might see when working at height. Whether a user is construction-focused or maintenance-focused, the app helps them be aware of hazards that are not necessarily obvious.”
This VR training solution doesn’t replace traditional forms of training
ASSP’s innovation isn’t the only VR solution on the market developed for fall protection. The global science company 3M Personal Safety Division offers one, too. In a four-minute-long VR experience, employees can inspect an environment high above the ground. Moreover, trainees can learn how to conduct proper harness inspection. The results of the training are automatically recorded and stored, so employees can access them when needed. With this tech, they’re also able to learn how to protect tools from falling without jeopardising their lives.
But this solution isn’t designed to replace traditional in-person training; instead, it acts as an addition to conventional training, making it more engaging and approachable. As Karen Cuta from the 3M Personal Safety Division explains, “Gaming technology and virtual reality have broadened the tools available for safety experts and manufacturers to engage an increasingly diverse workforce.”
Serious Labs’ innovation trains people how to operate heavy construction equipment
Another VR training innovation comes from Serious Labs, a company specialising in VR solutions for training and heavy equpiment operation. Its Aerial Virtual Reality Training Simulator trains people how to operate heavy equipment on-site, including scissor lifts and cranes. The system consists of a VR headset, a motion base, scissor lift controls, oculus touch controls, and a safety cage. The scissor lift module consists of 18 scenarios. Each of these scenarios becomes more challenging as the user continues to progress through the module. The simulator will provide lessons on driving, lifting, and positioning the equipment. Beginners can complete the module in one hour and 15 minutes, while a professional employee will finish in roughly 45 minutes. During the simulation, the technology identifies the worker’s strengths and weaknesses and showcases this data at the end of the module.
This innovation is the perfect learning tool for any construction employee, especially for millennials, who are entering the labour market and want to learn in a more immersive way. “People get very excited about VR,” says Peter Douglas, a safety expert and operations director at Nationwide Platforms. “And then when they jump on it, it’s so real. You feel everything; driving, steering, moving. It’s incredible. We are really excited we can use this technology to improve safety and training. It’s at the heart of everything we do.”
In Hazard ID and Forklift modules, trainees learn by doing
Earlier this year, NextWave Safety Solutions, specialising in workforce training tech, released two VR training modules, dubbed Hazard ID and Forklift. These VR-enhanced training programs are designed to save lives and money. Business Wire reports that inadequate and outdated training costs $3 trillion and more than 337,000 lives every year. With NextWave’s training modules, users are able to “learn through doing”. Such a way of learning proved to have a positive impact on the retention rate and resulted in fewer accidents on-site. So far, the company’s hazard identification and forklift modules are the only ones embedded with VR, but the team already plans to release eight more by the end of this year.
ArcelorMittal’s VR training tests employees’ fear of heights
Forward-thinking companies are already implementing VR training solutions into their work. One of those is a steel company called ArcelorMittal. The training, called the Blast Furnace Experience, was created in collaboration with developers from Sea Monster. This VR solution is designed for workers who’ll be working on blast furnaces at the company’s plant in South Africa. It will identify whether trainees have a fear of heights. In the simulation, workers wearing a VR headset stand on a moving platform that imitates a blast furnace, while fans simulate the wind strength.
The Blast Furnace Experience was released in January this year, and so far, it involved 400 people, out of whom eight had a fear of heights. ArcelorMittal invested $160,000 in this solution, and Quartz reports that it has “saved millions compared to what a fatality would cost the company”. In 2017, the company lost three workers. With the new tool, ArcelorMittal hopes such fatalities won’t happen again. While the solution is only available for trainees in the company’s plant in Gauteng, South Africa, ArcelorMittal is planning to introduce the same VR training to its other facilities around the world.
Numerous reports suggest that construction workers are at a greater risk of death compared to workers in other sectors. Injuries on construction sites happen almost daily. But thanks to VR technology, construction workers can test their abilities and improve their performance without jeopardising their lives. Companies that care for their employees shouldn’t hesitate to adopt VR training into their business – it’s an investment worth making.