Hundreds die in Britain and the USA each year from construction industry related deaths. Great heights and falling rubble are just some of the daily threats to a construction worker's life. The tricky part is how to implement training in the construction industry without the risk of injury, but safety scientists at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) have found the answer to this problem in the form of a virtual reality training scheme. Virtual reality is already used for training in the form of flight simulators, so using virtual reality for training in other sectors is the next logical step.
John Powers, an engineer at NIOSH says that thousands of constructions workers are injured each year from falls, and yet no-one has been able to figure out why this is so, even in the face of stringent safety regulations. Powers and his engineering team tried to solve the problem with a cleverly designed virtual reality construction site that gives those undergoing training in the construction industry the impression that they are walking along planks at the top of scaffolding. Movement in the virtual environment is measured, as is the physiology and stress levels of the participant to determine if these contribute to mishaps.
Powers and his team made some enlightening discoveries with the virtual reality system: most workers fall as a result of a sudden loss of balance. They also discovered that two factors could contribute to maintaining balance: footwear and the use of a focal point. Footwear can be engineered to minimise the risk of a construction worker slipping and losing his or her balance. If workers are struggling to regain control of their balance, directing their focus to an unmoving focal point at some distance, such as a pole, could help orientate them in the environment and regain their footing.
Powers hopes to make valid recommendations with the research findings to those involved in the industry. Training in the construction industry is ideally done by offering courses in a safe, controlled environment, which is why a virtual reality center would work so well. It would provide all the necessary experience while highlighting the need for protective clothing and implementing the appropriate precautions.