Many of us playfully moan about the rise and rise of health and safety rules, but ultimately we all benefit from living in a safer world than our parents and grandparents did. However, companies and organisations aiming to train staff in health and safety face a major challenge – health and safety training is undeniably boring. Studying how seemingly minor mistakes and risk-taking can lead to an accident can feel like a waste of time until an accident actually occurs.
If organisations want to keep their staff safe through health and safety training, they need to make sure that the training is effective – that staff are present, interested and are successfully learning the material. A major part of this challenge is making sure that staff are engaged with the training, which is no mean feat when the material is as dry as health and safety advice can be.
Virtual reality offers organisations the opportunity to make health and safety training more engaging and thus more effective, as well as allowing trainees to experience genuinely dangerous situations that wouldn’t be safe to train for the in the real world. Indeed, this is a second key benefit of health and safety training in VR, it can be safer as well as more engaging!
One industry that has already benefited from virtual reality technology applied to health and safety, is construction. A particularly hazardous field, construction needs to have high standards for health and safety in order to protect its workers and has traditionally followed a particular method to train staff. Typically, anyone visiting a construction site is provided with an induction as well as regular additional briefings pertaining to the specific tasks to be carried out that day. While PowerPoint decks are one of the business world’s most popular methods of delivering new information, they can become unengaging rather quickly when they are delivered every day by someone who has delivered it a hundred times before. Trainees can tend to zone out and start thinking about everything they need to get done that day, causing them to miss key health and safety information. This is where innovative construction businesses bring virtual reality in.
Some construction firms have already begun to use the now widely available and increasingly inexpensive mid-tier VR headsets to deliver engaging and relevant health and safety content that sinks in. Instead of reading bullet points on a screen, trainees can be transported to different locations around the work site and shown visually some of the hazards they will face during work. They can be shown first hand how some of the health and safety advice and tools work, as well as experiencing a visualisation of what can happen if health and safety advice is not followed. The VR aspect makes it more than just a 3D training video, but something that the user is actively engaged in and has to take action to complete. A realistic and credible training simulation.
Of course, construction isn’t the only industry in which an understanding of health and safety by members of staff is of top priority. There are hundreds of businesses that are legally and ethically required to provide staff with suitable health and safety training, and almost all of them could benefit by delivering this information in a more engaging way, using VR.
In response to the continued rise of mass shootings at schools in the United States, the Department of Homeland Security actually developed and released and VR simulation of a school shooting in which teachers are taught different tactical approaches to surviving such a horror and protecting students in such an event. While a video-game-esque simulation of a school shooting may sound like an example of poor taste, it could actually be a very effective tool in teaching methods that save lives. A teacher who has trained in the simulation is more likely to remember what works and what doesn’t than someone who simply read a pamphlet or watched a video. The virtual reality and simulation aspects of the training allow the educators to experiment and fail in a safe environment so that they know what works should the worst happen.
Health and safety is often seen as a boring topic, but virtual reality can help to keep trainees engaged, learning through trial and error and remembering what they have learned. There can also be cost and time savings compared to travelling to different potentially hazardous training locations.
As virtual reality continues to grow beyond the realms of gaming and entertainment, we can look forward to seeing the technology applied to other requirements in which engagement, trial and error and first-hand experience are required but difficult to achieve in real life. We’re only just beginning to advantage of the potential of virtual reality to provide us with better, safer ways in which to live and work.