Are You Ready For Total Immersion?

by Balfour Beatty

In the construction industry, we know that fatalities can result from one wrong choice in the matter of a second. But through the power of Virtual Reality—VR for short—five minutes might be all it takes to save a life.

Sound too good to be true? While Balfour Beatty teammates have been leveraging VR for several years to solve design and constructability challenges, our teammates in the Southeast recently began exploring its applications to help workers perform their jobs more safely.

By incorporating a gaming engine, or gamification, into VR, they developed an interactive simulation that trains workers to make the right choices when performing one of the most hazardous tasks in our industry—working at heights. From start to finish, the simulation takes about five minutes.

Utilizing 3D models from a local healthcare project, our team partnered with Autodesk to create a virtual environment based on the scenario that a worker must repair a downed safety railing over an open elevator shaft. Wearing a VR headset, the worker is guided through a lifelike job site setting via a series of audio prompts. Only when the correct action or answer is chosen can a worker move on to subsequent stages of the task. When a worker makes an incorrect choice, he or she is assessed a point. Grading is much like the game of golf—the lower the score, the better.

The exercise begins with an investigation of the scene. The worker moves on to a gear room in which he or she is prompted to choose the appropriate harness and secure it correctly. Then, the worker must select the right tie-off location between the options of a column, two different beams, and a conduit.

Each of our trade partners who went through the exercise expressed not only their excitement about the technology but also its relevance to their day-to-day operations.

“This type of technology is an excellent way to promote the safe thoughts and decisions that workers have to make on a daily basis,” affirms Shaun Burke, director of safety, health, and environment in the Carolinas. “If we can prevent one bad decision with this tool, we could save someone or someone’s family the pain and suffering associated with a serious injury… or worse.”

In the construction industry, the safety benefits of simulation-based learning are immense. Much like airline pilots spend countless hours in a simulator before getting behind an actual cockpit, VR enables construction workers to practice performing any number of high-risk activities without suffering the potentially damaging or deadly consequences if a mistake is made.

The gamification of VR not only serves an important training purpose, but it is also an extremely valuable information-gathering tool. At the end of simulations, each decision is tracked, scored, and recorded under the individual’s name, role, and company. Utilizing these metrics, trades can easily identify patterns and better understand their employees’ behaviors, implementing corrective measures and training when necessary.

Five minutes. It’s how long it takes to place an order at Starbucks or scroll through an Instagram feed. When a worker faces a split-second decision in the field, those five minutes wearing a VR headset can help achieve the most important number of all when it comes to safety: zero.