Safety, Technology, and Learning Design: How Virtual Reality is Improving Safety

Virtual Reality, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Entrepreneur, Mortenson, Mortenson Interactive Training
Image Courtesy of Mortenson

By Marc Kinsman and Will Adams

Virtual reality (VR) is a technology that has a wide appeal because of its capacity to immerse its users in a virtual world. The military was one of the first to embrace VR as a powerful tool for improving skills, knowledge, teamwork and situational awareness. Now, VR is becoming an important tool [that] leading Fortune 500 companies are deploying for mission critical training topics such as safety, operational efficiency and customer service. Increasingly, VR is showing up on construction job sites, not just for evaluating designs, but also for its utility in training employees in high-risk scenarios. VR can effectively simulate these situations without the cost or dangers associated with a real-life situation.VR employee training and education can expedite knowledge share and transfer while improving worker safety.

Safety is an essential priority on construction sites. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines have long helped to shape training and site management. However, construction sites are often diverse and rapidly changing environments. This type of dynamic setting can create learning challenges – especially for newer employees who have not practiced implementing OSHA guidelines on-site and may struggle to consistently evaluate risk. 

In June of 2019, a study found that learning outside the classroom setting, in workshops and through experience-based activities, enhances retention and engagement. Other research also shows that realistic, on-site training, known as experiential learning, creates better outcomes by increasing knowledge retention rates. A study quoted by Entrepreneur stated that employees only retained five percent of knowledge with traditional learning, while the retention rate from experiential learning was as much as 90 percent. Applying realistic experiences leads to safer practices and fewer incidents in a variety of training programs. 

One example is NextWave Safety’s Forklift VR module that incorporates a Vive headset and a driver’s seat with physical pedals. The simulation puts the user in the middle of a large virtual warehouse where the trainee learns how to accelerate and reverse, navigate the warehouse, pick up boxes and place them precisely on different warehouse shelves, all while learning to avoid accidents such as driving into another forklift. 

PIXO VR, which builds VR training experiences, developed an effective fall protection and prevention training for the construction industry that allows users to inspect and choose various fall arrest harnesses, make tie-offs to the various anchor locations and secure tools. The user then experiences first-hand the potential results of mistakes or oversights with simulated consequences. Mortenson team members at the Las Vegas Raiders project had a positive experience when they tested this platform during Construction Safety Week (May 6-10).

One of the other approaches Mortenson has taken is to develop a mobile app which leverages360-degree images to recreate a site-specific environment and then asks users to identify safety hazards seen on real-life projects. The app began with an idea at a hackathon. After quickly putting together and presenting a prototype to senior leadership, Mortenson’s emerging technologies team developed the application from the first prototype into a beta version using the game engine Unity for android and apple devices. The application utilizes a back-end database as well as front-end web portal, which is used to create training courses. 

Safety teams can create new courses based on each construction site by taking 360-degree photos. By using 360-degree camera images instead of computer-generated graphics, construction teams can create site-based, timely and realistic training for team members assigned to each project.

So how does it work? The app virtually transports the user to a jobsite and asks them to identify hazards. Upon identifying a valid hazard, a series of multiple-choice questions are asked of the user in order to gauge the depth of their safety knowledge.While the quiz assists the user, it is also an opportunity for trainers to collect data to ensure the app is working and training goals are met. Additionally, this data is key to identifying needed updates, as the technology is constantly being refined. 

The app, called Mortenson Interactive Training, is available to the public in the IOS and Android app store and will be available on the Oculus VR headset store in the future. 

Emerging technologies present many opportunities for future adaption both on and off the construction site, significantly improving learning retention, job performance, team collaboration, workplace safety, and cost.

 Marc Kinsman

Marc is an Emerging Technologies Developer for Mortenson and works out of their Seattle office. In this role, he’s responsible for the company’s use of AR and VR technology and is looking to push the industry forward one project at a time through stunning visuals and compelling interactions. Marc was previously an integrated construction coordinator for the firm and was responsible for implementation and coordination of virtual design and construction processes throughout projects. He has a bachelor’s degree in construction management from the University of Washington, where his studies included a heavy emphasis on BIM/VDC, design build and building performance analysis.

Will Adams

While pursuing his master’s degree in architecture at the University of Minnesota, Will discovered immersive VR and its potential to impact design and construction. During that program, He began researching real-world applications of VR with Mortenson. He is now living his childhood dream of being an inventor as an Emerging Technologies Developer with Mortenson, building a division focused on developing and applying emerging technology. His passion for architecture, programming and novel technology has led him to explore how the intersection of these fields can positively impact the rapidly changing building industry.

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