A worker walks across a platform, 18 stories above the street. She moves with her welding equipment toward the corner junction she’s been working to connect for the last few days. As she nears the corner, she slips and tumbles off. Luckily, her safety harness kept her from falling, but it seems that there is a fray in the webbing around her leg–a fray that doesn’t look good. But she’s ok–she removes her VR headset and talks through the situation with her safety trainer to learn how this could have been avoided.
Astute AEC professionals, especially those with management aspirations at major firms, need more than just sketchpad skills and studio hours to understand all of the requirements involved in managing projects at a large construction firm. While design is a key part of the process of turning an idea into a physical structure, construction site management becomes a critical skill to help ensure that an architect’s vision reaches completion. Safety at a construction site is of critical concern, and new immersive technologies can help firms manage constructions sites more safely. While we talk a lot at Moduluc about the benefits provided by VR/AR in the design and presentation process, it is important to also take note of how these same technologies can be used by AEC firms to make their sites safer.
These technologies can provide solutions to critical issues for firms. Immersive media can provide safety training which exposes workers to variables impossible to introduce in a physical environment, capture a greater amount of data to improve individual and organizational safety protocols, and provide practical cost-cutting measures to improve overall efficiency. Properly implemented, immersive media can present tangible benefits to firms seeking to improve their business.
Ability to Take Risk
Murphy’s Law, in that whatever bad can happen will, has a way of sneaking onto a construction site. No matter how many controls and regulations are in place, random events can, and will, happen. So how do you train workers for this without unnecessarily exposing them to harm?
VR/AR training allows for risk to be injected into training that would not be possible in a physical environment. As an example, a well-done VR/AR experience can truly make someone feel like they are working on a steel beam 20 stories above the ground while safely in a classroom environment. Or a wrench could (literally) be thrown into a welding scenario, without having to expose the trainee to unneeded risk. The ability to introduce variables also prevents the ever-too-common “teaching to the test” dynamic, as well as limiting the tendency of trainees to “learn the hard part” in order to pass the training. Immersive experiences can place trainees into life or death scenarios that can make them more effective at responding to challenging situations- preventing injuries or worse in the process.
Conducting virtual training makes it easier to assess the performance of individuals, and the collective group at the same time. With this information, managers can assess which individuals need more work in certain areas, and also see broader trends across the workforce which may require additional attention. Because VR/AR experiences usually allow for greater repetition, the pool of available data is deeper and more comprehensive. With this data, managers can assess current levels of risk while also working to mitigate developing concerns.
Cost-cutting measures are not just for the bottom line, they also can help a firm have more flexibility to invest capital in other areas, including safety. Not only can VR/AR tools can be integrated into a firm’s design process to streamline development, but they can help make safety training more efficient and valuable to workers.
A basic example is harness inspection. In their most recent report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 386 fatalities caused by falls, slips, or trips at construction sites in 2017. Harness inspection is a common training requirement for anyone working at a construction site, with serious implications if a worker is not proficient. But to conduct proper inspection training, workers need to be exposed to what “wrong looks like” on the harness. They need to inspect burns, cuts, tears, and frays and check the function of buckles and straps. Instead of buying these items just to then damage them for training purposes, firms can conduct the training in VR/AR while exposing their workers to the full range of possible problems with their equipment.
VR/AR training can reduce transportation and expenses associated with lost productivity as well. No longer do workers need to go to a separate site just for training, taking them away from the project. A VR/AR training module can be brought to the site and provided to workers right at their location. This also allows for site managers to quickly re-train workers who had a safety infraction. That person could be directly moved into a VR/AR simulation, re-certified on the training for their safety issue, and then put back to work with less loss of productivity.
Amid the safety considerations, VR/AR is appealing to younger workers who are more familiar with virtual environments. Firms with VR/AR experiences as a core part of their safety training programs can attract workers who can see virtual training not just as a requirement, but an attractive part of the work experience. It is our assertion that AEC firms that integrate VR/AR into their design and safety protocols increase their chance of differentiating themselves from their competitors and create more efficient workflows throughout the building process.