Safety and liability are critical concerns for every company, and operational excellence is mandatory. A single incident can put a company at risk for massive liability and derail its entire brand image. According to the National Safety Council, the number of preventable fatal work injuries in the manufacturing industry increased slightly from 2016 to 2017 and the number of medically consulted injuries totaled more than half a million in 2017 (550,000).
Putting strong safety procedures in place is more than an operational effort for manufacturers - it’s a human issue. Attracting the right talent and training that talent with confidence and skill is essential to ensuring workplace safety, not to mention the positive experience of employees and customers. When you consider that U.S. industry pays out over $1 billion per week in direct costs1 for disabling, non-fatal injuries, it’s clear that the current employee training paradigm is broken, especially when it comes to employee safety.
But what if manufacturers could implement technology at the cutting edge to immerse employees in real-world simulations of their roles in a safe environment, giving them exposure to the risks they will face that may cause illness or injury?
Today, immersive technologies like virtual reality (VR) enable a fundamentally better way to properly prepare employees to excel at their roles while keeping them safe. The science behind immersive learning demonstrates why situational immersion provides the real-world behavior change needed in the workplace to transform safety training.
Why Immersion is More Effective
Books, classes, lectures, quizzes and homework can never adequately prepare workers for how to respond in difficult, stressful or highly complex situations. But true, real-life practice often means exposing underskilled workers to situations that risk their lives and the lives of others. In addition, if training must occur in a realistic environment, it can disrupt business beyond simply taking employees away from their jobs.
Immersive earning, especially in VR, promises a new way: a training model that doesn’t force employers to choose between safe learning and effective learning.
One of the primary strengths of VR is the ability to provide access to, and hence more repetition to, training. Traditional training methods and materials, especially those used to train in large or costly settings, don’t typically allow for repetition training. With VR, training can be delivered on-demand, making repetition learning possible. Moreover, the ability to assess trainees for proficiency at any given point in time with VR allows training repetition to enhance recall and improve long-term retention of training concepts.
Perhaps most importantly, experiential learning that relies on ‘learning by doing’ critically relies on providing immediate feedback once a response is made. While this result was borne out in the behavioral research literature, it is based on a deep understanding of how this type of learning works in the brain. VR is particularly well-suited to leverage the ‘learning by doing’ system where immediate feedback can be delivered. Allowing users to make decisions as they would in the real world, while also providing immediate feedback for that behavior, is a training methodology we know is critical to the learning process.
Immersive Learning for Safety
Companies are already beginning to use immersive technology to better onboard, train and retain employees, and there are a few key pillars of safety training that immersive learning can improve.
VR-based safety training puts learners in an immersive, realistic environment where they can
practice spotting safety hazards and making safe decisions. One of the biggest utility companies in the U.S. recently adopted VR to produce hazard identification training for its field employees. Employees received repetitive practice identifying safety issues so they get better and faster at spotting problems in the field.
Hazard identification is a standard aspect of employee training not just for field workers in inherently dangerous situations, but for employees of virtually any type of company. Everyday hazards present in all sorts of situations — exposed wiring, broken machinery, out of place items on a production or retail floor that could create a dangerous circumstance for employees or customers.
To train workers on safety procedures, companies are often forced to interrupt business in order to give learners realistic tactical practice. VR-based immersive learning provides an effective approach for influencing the safe behavior of team members, in a scalable way, without disrupting operations.
One of the U.S.’s biggest processors of chicken, beef and pork, can’t afford to sacrifice either manufacturing operations or safety. Instead, the company leveraged VR-based training that helped manufacturing floor workers spot safety issues and practice safety procedures in a chaotic environment. After deploying VR as part of employee training, the company experienced more than a 20% reduction in injuries and illnesses compared to the year prior, which beat their goal of a 15% reduction. Furthermore, 89% of learners said they felt more prepared after VR training.
Training store workers and other types of associates how to react in rare emergency situations such as workplace violence has always been tricky. You can present them with a list of protocols, and even conduct role-playing exercises, but it’s impossible to predict how one might react in a real-life emergency situation — except with VR. Giving employees a real-time experience of an incident allows them to experientially go through the critical steps of de-escalating a high-risk moment.
For large manufacturing companies, securing standardized and effective safety procedures across sprawled operations is paramount to protecting the brand and its workforce. Lockout-tagout procedures are routinely put in place while machinery is being serviced to help avoid accidents. But it’s up to employees to follow a procedure closely.
One very large, privately held corporation in the U.S., with products that span markets such as food and beverage, animal nutrition, food service, bioindustrial, agricultural and meat/poultry, uses VR to create comprehensive training on its manufacturing floor lockout-tagout procedure. By taking away traditional videos and lectures that used to dominate the training domain, the company keeps employees engaged and enthusiastic — and learning better.
It’s no surprise that VR training applications have found early success. Immersive learning is a vastly more effective training approach than many current practices. But not all VR training is created equal. Just as in traditional training practices, for VR training to work, the fundamental training principles surrounding learning are critical factors to consider.
Derek Belch is CEO of Strivr