Construction sites represent some of the most risky workplaces in the world. This paper presents a new strategy, virtual reality simulation, to enhance the workplace safety for workers and engineers in construction sites. The new strategy replicates the actual construction site environment, enabling the workers and engineers to simulate their roles on the construction site and identify ways to reduce risks in the workplace (Tichon & Diver, 2012).
The construction industry is widely recognized as one of the most hazardous sector, with construction workers in the U.S. and the U.K. more likely to suffer accidents than in any other industry. Moreover, hazardous incidents in the construction industry also lead to significant economic losses for the construction company (Chen et al., 2013).
Generally, virtual reality replicates an actual physical environment using combined computer software and hardware technologies, thus enabling interactions between the user and the environment. Since majority of construction sites today are first planned virtually before commencing the actual building, construction health and safety researchers have taken advantage of this fact to incorporate safety training in the virtual planning stage (Chen et al., 2013). In this case, the researchers can use 3-D models to represent the construction site in virtual reality, utilizing the same technology applied in computer games to enhance the realistic appearance of their environment. Thus, the technology could aid in raising the awareness of construction workers about possible risks and hazards in their workplace by simulating the situations they may face and enhancing their awareness about how to react in different situations. Furthermore, the technology could also train the workers on how to operate construction machinery, improving their performance and safety on the construction site when working with potentially hazardous machinery (Chen et al., 2013).
The application of virtual reality simulation training with construction workers will provide them with an unlimited number of trials in case something goes wrong, especially since they are able to learn from their experiences without the risk of injury. According to Tichon and Diver (2012), since the construction workers have an unlimited number of trials in virtual reality, the trainers can observe precisely how the test subjects react both prior to and after the accidents, as well as whether their learning is improving.
Using virtual reality simulation provides construction workers and engineers with the opportunity to experience hazards on the construction site, thus improving their skills in handling different situations and operating machinery. Further, this technology also enables construction workers and engineers to understand the impact of their decision-making without having to experience the hazardous risks and consequences present on real construction sites (Hilfert, T., & König, 2016).
The virtual reality simulation technology may be used to teach trainees including construction workers, equipment operators, and decision-makers about the benefits of situational awareness on the construction project site and also from remote locations (Hilfert, T., & König, 2016). In addition, the technology may also enhance the trainee’s awareness about their roles and tasks on the construction site. In turn, the increased situational awareness and knowledge of roles and tasks will help the trainees develop higher order thinking skills and enhance their professionalism on the construction site.
Using virtual reality simulation will also lower the risk levels related to on-site field mistakes and injuries, particularly since the trainees are learning in a zero-harm environment. Furthermore, the technology also improves the trainees’ understanding on the impacts of their decision-making without experiencing the actual on-site hazards and risks and their associated consequences (Hilfert, T., & König, 2016). In this case, using simulation program provides workers with the requisite preparations for preliminary investigations of the site without having to actually leave the training room. The safe environment within which the simulation occurs enables the trainees to make strategic work-related decisions in the context of the seriousness and reality of a hazardous situation (Hilfert, T., & König, 2016). Therefore, virtual reality simulation could save lives by identifying potentially fatal mistakes on the construction site.
However, research into the use of virtual reality simulation faces some drawbacks since it is difficult to predict with certainty all the potential hazards on construction sites, as well as how workers would react in difficult circumstances. Moreover, considering the high number of workers on any given construction site, it is difficult and expensive to build and equip facilities to teach all the construction workers (Nickel et al., 2013). Hence, the training could cost a lot of money without the added certainty that the company will benefit from the funds spent on the training.
In customizing the virtual reality simulator for use in training construction workers, program designers would have to consider a significant number of hazardous factors (Nickel et al., 2013). As such, simulation would face substantial limitations caused by difficulties in predicting every possible real-life situation on a construction site. Indeed, there are diverse human factors present in any real-life situation and particularly on construction sites where different workers have varying design-making skills. Thus, designers cannot know for sure if their simulations accurately represent all variables on the construction site (Nickel et al., 2013).
Number of Trainees
Another drawback to the application of virtual reality simulation in training workers and engineers is that construction projects vary significantly in size, with majority of construction projects employing at least 20 workers (Nickel et al., 2013). As a result, accommodating all the workers in the simulation training may prove time-consuming since the technology requires the worker’s absence from work. For large construction companies, training all construction workers will cost a lot of money.
Virtual reality technology is currently available in the market at an average cost of $800 (Hilfert, T., & König, 2016). Construction companies can, therefore, develop applications and programs that apply virtual reality technology to real-life construction situations. The companies would reap significant benefits by improving the experience of its on-site construction workers and designers, while using the technology to hold training drills would reduce the probability of injuries during unexpected circumstances. Thus, the technology could cut costs for construction companies by reducing medical costs related to injured workers (Hilfert, T., & König, 2016).
Training of construction workers and engineers using virtual reality simulation can prevent fatalities and injuries on construction sites caused by operating machinery and hazardous materials. This research aims to show how the use of virtual reality simulation training can reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on construction sites.
- Chen, A., Golparvar-Fard, M., & Kleiner, B. (2013). SAVES: A safety training augmented virtuality environment for construction hazard recognition and severity identification. CONVR, 2013, 373-84. Retrieved from: http://itc.scix.net/data/works/att/convr-2013-38.pdf
- Hilfert, T., & König, M. (2016). Low-cost virtual reality environment for engineering and construction. Visualization in Engineering, 4(1), 2-8. Retrieved from: https://www.inf.bi.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/
- Nickel, P., Lungfiel, A., Nischalke-Fehn, G., & Trabold, R. (2013). A virtual reality pilot study towards elevating work platform safety and usability in accident prevention. Safety Science Monitor, 17(1), 2-10. Retrieved from: http://ssmon.chb.kth.se/volumes/vol17/2_Nickel.pdf
- Tichon, J., & Diver, P. (2012). Interactive Simulator Training in Civil Construction: Evaluation from the Trainer’s Perspective. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 23(2), 143-163. Retrieved from: https://www.learntechlib.org/d/37633