Asian firms turn to gaming technology to ramp up safety training

An award-winning virtual reality platform designed to cut accidents by delivering a "cognitive shock" to players has been taken up by Asian construction firms to train workers.

By exposing students to site accidents through the "hyper-immersive" system, the platform’s developers claim to have provided a learning experience no classroom can match.

Based on gaming technology, The Situation Engine allows construction workers to navigate life-threatening scenarios using a computer or Oculus Rift headset.

Cognitive shock is necessary to restructure our beliefs and understanding of the world– Sidney Newton, University of New South Wales

It is the first software of its kind to be developed by construction safety experts, say developers Sidney Newton and Russell Lowe at Australia’s University of New South Wales (UNSW).

The system recently won a Premier Innovation in Education and Training Award by the UK-based Chartered Institute of Building.

"The experience of The Situation Engine is intended to challenge and confront," said Sidney Newton, an associate professor of building economics at UNSW.

"Cognitive shock is necessary to restructure our beliefs and understanding of the world in a way that translates into changed behaviour, and that can be highly taxing on the learner."

The system is now catching on in China, according to the UNSW’s Built Environment department.

Today the department released a statement saying that the major Hong Kong-based construction firm, Gammon Construction, has been using the platform for the past six months, and "credits it with significantly reducing training times".

UNSW also says China’s leading power generation company, China Light and Power, is reviewing the system for use in training.

In Australia, the contractor and developer Brookfield Multiplex is proposing to use The Situation Engine for training, as well, UNSW says, adding that Safe Work Australia has recorded more than 400 deaths on construction sites between 2003-2013.

The Situation Engine allows students to experience several different sites at varying stages of construction, all of which pose risks like electrocution, falling objects or working at elevated heights– Sidney Newton, University of New South Wales

Currently The Situation Engine is being used to train architects and construction managers at UNSW and other Australian universities.

Newton says the hyper-real environment engages workers and students more effectively than theoretical teaching.

"The Situation Engine allows students to experience several different sites at varying stages of construction," he said, "all of which pose risks like electrocution, falling objects or working at elevated heights. The class can observe and forensically diagnose problems as they walk through different scenarios."

Newton and Lowe have replicated Australian construction sites, right down to machinery, signs and equipment.

"For these scenarios to be convincing and for people to change their behaviour the sites need to look authentic and the hazards have to be realistic," said Newton.

Lowe said it is important for architecture students, in particular, to understand hazards on building sites.

"First-year students have no on-site experience but as practising architects they’ll need to know how to behave on building sites. The Situation Engine allows them to act as a virtual site manager or building surveyor and assess and evaluate the safety issues," said Lowe, a senior lecturer in architecture studies and computational design.

The Situation Engine builds on an Australian Government Office for Learning and Teaching project in partnership with the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide and Western Sydney University.

The partners developed the Situational eLearning Adaptive Repository (SeLAR), an open-access website of construction site images, lecture notes, models and plans that students can use to customise their own virtual construction sites.
To date 800 students across Australia have accessed the website.

Photograph: Using "hyper-immersive reality", The Situation Engine puts students in perilous situations with no actual risk to themselves (UNSW)

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  1. Whilst China Light and Power is a Hong Kong listed company and well known for its efforts in site safety measures, being retired and well away from the “trenches” , I’m not sure if this programme has gone any further in HK. It is something I will raise with the Lighthouse Club (the leading site safety charity).

  2. Seeing is believing! Time and time again workers on site become so intent on completing their section of the work that they loose all thought for their own physical safety and even that of other workers in close proximity to them! Only when they can see just how very easily disaster can occur simply because of lack of due care and diligence can they learn the value of all our safety precautions and training we provide on site for our workers!

  3. Excellent way forward

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