Tuesday, 17 September 2019
A new study suggests employee safety could be improved through use of Virtual Reality (VR) in Health and Safety training, such as fire evacuation drills.
The Human Factors Research Group at the University of Nottingham, developed an immersive VR system to stimulate participants’ perception of temperature, and senses of smell, sight and hearing to explore how they behaved during two health and safety training scenarios: an emergency evacuation in the event of a fire and a fuel leak.
In one scenario, participants had to evacuate from a virtual fire in an office, seeing and hearing using a VR headset but could also feel heat from three 2kW heaters, and could smell smoke from a scent diffuser, creating a multisensory virtual environment. This group was compared against another group who were observed in this scenario using only audio-visual elements of VR.
Observing real life behaviours
Previous research on human behaviour during real-world fire incidents has shown that a lack of understanding of the spread and movement of fire often means that occupants are unprepared and misjudge appropriate actions. Immersive health and safety training enables employers to train people about hazards and hazardous environments without putting anyone at risk.
The Nottingham research, funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), found contrasts between the groups in the way participants reacted to the scenario. Those in the multi-sensory group had a greater sense of urgency, reflecting a real-life scenario, and were more likely to avoid the virtual fires. Evidence from the audio-visual participants suggested that they were treating the experience more like a game and behaviours were less consistent with those expected in a real world situation.
“Health and safety training can fail to motivate and engage employees and can lack relevance to real-life contexts. Our research, which has been funded by the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health, suggests that virtual environments can help address these issues, by increasing trainees’ engagement and willingness to participate in further training. There are also business benefits associated with the use of virtual environment training, such as the ability to deliver training at or near the workplace and at a time that is convenient to the employee.”
Virtual Reality vs. PowerPoint
A further test was done, as part of the study, to measure the effectiveness of VR training versus traditional PowerPoint training. Participants took questionnaires, testing their knowledge on either fire safety or safe vehicle disassembly procedure, before and after training as well as one week later.
While those trained via PowerPoint appeared to have gained more knowledge when tested directly after training, there was a significantly larger decrease in knowledge scores when participants were retested one week later. In comparison, the VR group’s long term retention was better and reported higher levels of engagement; attitude to occupational safety and health; and willingness to undertake training in the future.
The research suggests that the increased cognitive engagement of learning in the virtual environment creates more established and comprehensive mental models which can improve recall, and implies that testing an employee’s knowledge immediately following health and safety training may not be an effective means of gauging long-term knowledge of health and safety.
Applications to the workplace
"The wheels are turning so that virtual and smart learning is increasingly ingrained in the workplace and everyday life.
“Technology is continuously advancing and in many cases becoming more affordable, so this study gives us a taste of what’s to come. By improving training strategies with the use of technology and stimulated sensory experiences, we are heading in a direction where the workforce will not just enjoy a more immersive and interesting training course but participate in an effective learning experience, so they are better prepared and equipped to stay safe, healthy and well at work.”
The researchers conducted meetings, discussions, and visits with partners including Rolls-Royce, for expert advice around fire safety and safe handling of hazardous chemicals. The University of Nottingham’s Health and Safety advisors also contributed to help the researchers better understand how the training may be implemented in industry.
The study aims to produce evidence-based guidance for the development and use of virtual environments in engaging and effective training using cost-effective and accessible solutions. The full study features in a report, titled ‘Immersive virtual worlds: Multisensory virtual environments for health and safety training’, to be released at the IOSH’s annual conference on Tuesday 17 September.
More information is available from Dr Glyn Lawson, in the Faculty of Engineering on +44 (0)115 95 14003 Glyn.Lawson@nottingham.ac.uk or Katie Andrews in the Press Office at the University of Nottingham, on +44 (0)115 84 67156 firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes to editors:
About the University of Nottingham
Ranked in the Top 100 globally and 17th in the UK by the QS World University Rankings 2024, the University of Nottingham is a founding member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities. Studying at the University of Nottingham is a life-changing experience, and we pride ourselves on unlocking the potential of our students. We have a pioneering spirit, expressed in the vision of our founder Sir Jesse Boot, which has seen us lead the way in establishing campuses in China and Malaysia - part of a globally connected network of education, research and industrial engagement.
Nottingham was crowned Sports University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2024 – the third time it has been given the honour since 2018 – and by the Daily Mail University Guide 2024.
The University is among the best universities in the UK for the strength of our research, positioned seventh for research power in the UK according to REF 2021. The birthplace of discoveries such as MRI and ibuprofen, our innovations transform lives and tackle global problems such as sustainable food supplies, ending modern slavery, developing greener transport, and reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
The University is a major employer and industry partner - locally and globally - and our graduates are the second most targeted by the UK's top employers, according to The Graduate Market in 2022 report by High Fliers Research.
We lead the Universities for Nottingham initiative, in partnership with Nottingham Trent University, a pioneering collaboration between the city’s two world-class institutions to improve levels of prosperity, opportunity, sustainability, health and wellbeing for residents in the city and region we are proud to call home.