Virtual reality and workplace safety
Workplace safety is a growing priority for many businesses around the UK. But for some industries, guaranteeing the safety of trainees proves to be more challenging depending on the nature of the role.
For example, where an employee predominantly based in an office might be considered at lower risk of harm, those operating heavy machinery, handling dangerous substances or performing life-threatening medical procedures might not get a second chance to learn from their mistakes.
And as sobering as that sounds, it’s true. In 2021, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) shared that 142 work-related fatal injuries were recorded in the UK, 39 of which occurring within the construction industry and 20 in manufacturing.
It goes to show how dangerous some working environments can be and begs the question what can be done to protect trainees about to start a career in potentially fatal working environments.
Well, as you’re likely to already know, virtual reality (VR) has been a major player in the way employers plan training programmes, with more and more businesses realising its capabilities and affordability.
Aside from the fact it can run simulations for any industry, it offers a 3D immersive platform where employees can learn industry-related skills in a risk-free environment from anywhere in the world.
Whether it’s operating heavy machinery, learning to fly an aircraft or perhaps manufacturing ground-breaking technology, VR has proven to heighten engagement, strengthen memory retention and produce better results across multiple industries. But more on that later.
Benefits of using VR for safety training
Implementing VR for safety training carries multiple benefits. Not only does it remove the risk of harm for trainees, but it introduces them to an immersive learning platform they may have never experienced before.
It means, from the get-go, participant engagement is likely to be much higher, which paves the way for higher engagement and deeper learning, where knowledge is far more likely to be retained.
In fact, in PwC’s report, ‘Seeing Is Believing’, it’s noted VR learners completed training four times faster than those who learnt the same material in a traditional setting. The same report also adds there was a higher knowledge- retention rate from learners who used VR.
Similarly, according to a study conducted by the University of Maryland in 2018, Professor of Computer Science, Amitabh Varshey, said: “This data is exciting in that it suggests that immersive environments could offer new pathways for improved outcomes in education and high-proficiency training”.
A 2016 study involving high school students in China also found that memory retention and test scores improved when VR learning was incorporated into the curriculum.
Perhaps one of the reasons for VR’s success in training is due to its accessibility. Because unlike the rigmarole of preparing resources and wasting time commuting to dedicated training centres, VR can be accessed from anywhere in the world simply by putting on a headset.
It means trainees can learn anything from heart surgery through to operating heavy machinery all from the comfort of their sofa (or any other location that fits around their needs). If you ask us, it’s a win-win solution for employees and employers.
What’s more, using VR for safety training removes any risks or distractions you might associate with traditional training methods. As a result, trainees devote more attention to training modules, comforted by the knowledge they’re in a safe environment. It’s real-world scenarios without real-world consequences.
But aside from the safety and security offered by VR, it also outperforms computer-based learning for memory retention. That’s because, unlike the near-static movement of operating a mouse and keyboard, VR requires learners to perform real-world movements which, in turn, leverages embodied cognition.
This is a term used by researchers that recognises we are more likely to learn industry-related procedures by performing them as you would in your role.
Before we move on, it’s worth mentioning that everybody has differentiated learning styles. And while VR offers flexibility to meet every requirement in a safe environment, there’s still benefits in offering a blended learning programme which comprises both VR and traditional methods.
It really depends on the needs of your learners.
Employer considerations when implementing VR training and safety
There’s no doubt VR has huge potential to accelerate the growth of your business. As well as enjoying a reduction in training costs, you’ll make a lasting impression on employees by offering a virtual learning platform that’s fun, safe and productive.
But before you commit to using VR in your workplace, there’s some things you need to consider. First off, how are you going to adopt the new technology to meet your needs?
Our advice is to identify those areas of your training where VR can make the biggest impact. For example, if your workplace is inherently dangerous, VR can be used to create a safer learning environment where trainees can learn how to operate tools and machinery without risk.
Secondly, does your business operate from multiple remote locations? If so, you could implement VR to bridge the gap of distance for colleagues to work together on assigned modules simply by using a headset.
Another consideration to make is how other businesses are using VR to improve performance and productivity. What are they doing that’s pushing boundaries? How are they getting the most out of their staff? Maybe you could implement some of the same strategies.
Of course, suddenly implementing VR into your training programme requires some thought. For some employees – especially those who are not frequent users of technology – the concept of learning through VR might seem daunting.
For this reason, we suggest you slowly implement VR as you see fit. It’s also a wise idea to pre-warn your team about the inclusion of VR and to perhaps perform a live demonstration of how it works.
If you need any support or advice for the best methods to introduce VR to your team, get in touch – we’d be glad to help you.
Use cases for VR safety training
Contrary to the opinion that VR belongs in sci-fi movies and video games, VR and immersive learning have the versatility to cater for any industry.
Aircraft engine training
Developed on HTC Vive and Oculus Rift devices, Program-Ace developed an application for engineers and technicians who are required to learn the configuration of Rolls-Royce jet engines.
As part of its virtual experience, trainees are invited to disassemble and assemble a detailed 3D model of an aircraft engine to help them gain a holistic understanding of every component. Check it out.
Accurately carrying out a complex procedure necessitates a high amount of repetition. And in a real-world scenario, such as surgery, the comfort of making a mistake without consequences doesn’t exist.
Given the context, it’s a relief to know surgeons can perform procedures using VR as many times as required – without any risk to patients.
During the pandemic, the uptake of VR in medical centres increased out of a fear there could be a shortage of trained surgeons in the workplace.
Safety training for Oil & Gas workers
When it comes to the oil and gas industry, a well-trained team aware of potential risks and hazards can be the difference between a successful project completion or catastrophic failure.
While many companies make huge efforts to protect employees from ever-present risks, there’s a growing awareness more must be done to mitigate injury and fatalities.
For this reason, industry leaders now implement VR into their training procedures, providing a platform for workers to be exposed to real-world scenarios without the real-world risks.
VR has revolutionised the way training is conducted in the construction industry. By using a headset, employees enter a hands-on experience where they can learn health and safety, and how to operate machinery, as well as performing intricate technical tasks.
Whether it’s electricians, plumbers, crane operators or civil engineers, VR can be tailored to any required programme. In doing so, it provides a learning platform that keeps trainees safe from the dangers of real-world construction sites.
VR is reshaping the way many industries offer workplace safety training. Because, unlike the potential dangers that come with in-situ learning, VR offers a platform where trainees can learn without the risk of harm.
No matter the industry, VR can be designed for all aspects of work-related training. Whether it’s to master heart surgery, experience a war zone exercise or to conduct scientific research, the possibilities are endless. Not binary.
In fact, incorporating VR with real-world training can give your employees the best of both worlds.
If you’d like to find out how workplace safety training VR can benefit your organisation, fill in our quick and easy contact form and we’ll get straight back to you.