Virtual training, real benefits

4/27/2017 12:33 PM CET

A new virtual reality (VR) training solution developed by Skanska in the UK is bringing many benefits to teaching how to inspect trenches, formwork and other temporary works on construction sites: these advantages include improved efficiency, safety and flexibility. This solution supports the 2017 Skanska Safety Week theme of Plan-Do-Check-Act.

For construction site supervisors, this training course normally offers few surprises.

On the site, they first encountered a trench supported by vertical sheets of steel driven into the ground. Then they came across formwork, a matrix of metal tubes climbing high into the sky that are used to set the shape of concrete structures of all types. And then there was a cofferdam, like a trench, but covering a larger area.

These are three temporary elements commonly found on construction sites, and the Skanska employees viewing them were learning how to inspect them. Inspections are important, as these features must be properly designed, implemented and maintained to ensure people's safety.

A twist on training

But this training was different from previous sessions, as what they were seeing did not physically exist. Rather, they were standing in a conference room and interacting in a digital world – made possible by the virtual reality (VR) headsets they were wearing.

Increasingly, virtual reality – once found only in science fiction – is reality. As applied to training, VR provides an easily accessible and safe way of harnessing the power of learning through experiences. Beyond construction, VR is helping train soldiers, doctors, nurses and even astronauts.

"These are the early days, but VR is going to be almost everywhere," says Jake Sharp, a Skanska UK Visualization Specialist.

Just like the real world

For these trainings, our UK Construction unit divides the 12 trainees into three groups, each with a VR headset and two handsets. One person at a time in each group dons that gear to inspect the virtual structures. With VR, they can engage with the virtual world by walking, crouching and measuring, just like they are physically there.

Their challenge is to identify faults – such as a missing structural support – that have been modelled into the digital assemblies. They must also determine how those "errors" can be corrected. This is a team exercise, so their colleagues watch the interactions on a video screen and offer suggestions.

1 / 2 Virtual reality provides an important new dimension to safety training.
2 / 2 A problem area is marked in red in this virtual reality simulation of a formwork assembly.

Safe experiences

In the real world, experiencing those faults would mean being at some level of personal risk. Using virtual reality eliminates that risk.

"We are teaching people to spot the things we want them to spot in real life, but we want them to get that experience in a way that is safe," says Paul Cole, Skanska UK Chief Engineer, Civil Engineering.

Reality's importance

Still, VR's convincing depictions of reality do not replace reality. Experience in actual situations is still key. That is why after the VR training sessions, participants are assigned mentors on construction sites.

And they will put on a different kind of headset: hardhats.

Alignment with Plan-Do-Check-Act

This VR-based program allows the trainee to:

  • Plan: Train on how to design temporary works, as well as finished construction requirements.
  • Do: Enable people to run through and discuss the construction sequence and identify hazards and control measures in a safe environment.
  • Check: Inspect and check that the temporary works are constructed in accordance with engineering standards and are safe.
  • Act: Make changes to the construction materials, methods and sequence of work based on the run through in a virtual environment.

Safety Week 2017

May 8 to 14, our 41,000 employees at thousands of projects in our home markets, along with more than 200,000 subcontractors, suppliers and business partners were involved in activities focused on workplace safety, health and well-being.