Fail safely: why VR is a game changer for safety training
While often associated with entertainment, virtual reality (VR) is fast proving to be a game changer for the more serious activities in life. The innovative technology has advantages for many industries and is now being utilised to enhance safety training in the workplace. VR allows real-life hazards and dangerous scenarios to be experienced from the safety of a virtual environment, making it an incredibly effective tool for training employees before they go into the field for industries like mining and construction.
The opportunity to fail safely
The key advantage of VR-based safety training is the ability to emulate dangerous work situations in a controlled environment allowing employees to experience and respond to these scenarios in real time, building out a valuable learning experience to share with others in the workforce. This type of training can assist employees with seeing the consequences of failing to complete a task to the right standard, without actually having to experience the potentially dire consequences. Using VR allows them to get it wrong, safely without risk of injury, and apply that learning to their job moving forward. For example, these experiences could be facing hazards when operating a crane or forklift, putting out fires, navigating through smoke or cutting and welding, to mention a few. These decisions can also be recorded and training managers can provide feedback to each employee based on their performance. This is crucial for learning as people learn best when they have to proactively make decisions, and can make mistakes.
Engaging and cost-effective
Another reason VR is so effective for learning is that it brings the whole body into play and engages an employee’s muscle memory for skills and responses to both routine and emergency tasks. Employees are placed into a real-life situation that requires them to move and work as if they are on the job. The act of visualising and experiencing events even if these have not happened in reality creates powerful connections in the brain. Knowledge retention from experiential learning through VR has been proven to be 8–10 times higher than classroom learning. This provides an effective training experience to the employee and provides insight to employers for assessing workers’ skills before they are onsite. For industries where safety training has a reputation for being dull content to read, VR is a way of re-engaging people with the topic effectively. Previously, to carry out this level of training safely was expensive and hazardous, but VR has been able to remove the risk and make it more affordable. Instead of having to set up a training centre and bring in bulky equipment or vehicles, VR can effortlessly transport users to the field with all the necessary elements to create an effective learning experience.
A rising trend for companies
More and more Australian companies are recognising the benefits of VR safety training with, most recently, BHP Mitsubishi Alliance (BMA) announcing plans to use VR to prepare workers for Broadmeadow Mine in Queensland. Using VR, BMA will immerse workers in a simulated underground environment, where miners can be trained in real-life scenarios and test their responses to hazards in a safe environment. Another example is supply chain and logistics firm LINX Cargo Care Group, which announced earlier this year that it was rolling out VR-based safety training to 4000 employees who work in hazardous environments with large machinery. The company chose VR to ensure they were able to create a compelling, simulated experience that cuts through and has an impact on workers.
The future of VR-based training
VR-based safety training is efficient, cost-effective and impactful, with the technology now playing a critical role in creating a world where everyone comes home from work. Using the immersive technology as a training tool can literally save lives, and businesses should not underestimate the value it could bring to their workforce. Moving forward, as VR hardware becomes more affordable and accessible to companies, we will see VR-based training practices transform entire industries and create safer worker environments for everybody involved.
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