Virtual Reality Enhances Safety Training

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Helping employees feel confident that they can perform their tasks safely is a key part of any training an organization provides. It's even better if you can help them visualize a variety of scenarios and practice how they will respond.

That's one reason virtual reality (VR) training is gaining popularity. VR puts trainees in places and situations they are likely to encounter on the job and lets them experience how their actions affect outcomes — all in a safe environment.

"We are seeing virtual reality becoming a popular way to provide hazard recognition activities, safety simulations and site familiarization immersions," says Susan Murphy, M.A., director of professional learning services for UL EHS Sustainability. “Hazard identification in particular is a straightforward application for VR exploration,” she says.

"Training content developed to include 360-degree photos, videos and workplace audio provides a realistic view of hazards that, if experienced during a live training session, might prove dangerous or distracting to the learning experience."

Murphy’s colleague Jonathan Jacobi, M.S., CSP, says VR training is effective because learners often find it more engaging and relevant than instructor-led training or e-learning courses.

“Learners stay connected with realistic training experiences,” says Jacobi, senior EHS advisor at UL EHS Sustainability. “VR gets learners involved and provides opportunities to express curiosities. Well-designed VR bears a close semblance to work environments where learners will apply new knowledge and skills.”

VR’s ability to provide hands-on experiences makes it particularly applicable when realistic exercises and drills aren’t feasible, Jacobi explains. For example, the U.S. Federal Emergency Response Agency uses IMMERSED VR to teach disaster managers about mitigation techniques specific to major flood events.

It also appears that people are able to apply VR-based training more readily on the job. Initial research suggests that this type of learning increases knowledge retention, says E. Andrew Kapp, Ph.D., CSP, CHMM, research manager at Underwriters Laboratories.

“The retention level one year after a VR training session can be as much as 80 percent, compared to 20 percent retention after a week with traditional training,” he explains. That’s according to Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO at Miami Children’s Health System, Kapp says. Kini’s organizaton uses VR to train employees on CPR, starting an IV, wound care and other lifesaving techniques.

These results support a key finding from research on adult learning which indicates that the transfer, retention and application of new knowledge and skills improves or weakens depending on the relevance of the training, Kapp explains.

“Well-designed virtual environments provide higher content relevance than other modalities of training,” he says, noting that this is why simulator-based training is a trusted approach in military and commercial aviation, space flight and related industries. “The disparity between robust VR applications and simulator-based training methods is narrowing.”

One potential drawback of using VR is the need for specialized headsets and peripheral controller equipment. However, cardboard headsets paired with smartphones make basic forms of the technology more accessible.

“Cardboard viewers shield out external distractions and provide immersive binocular playback utilizing smartphone display screens and audio outputs,” Jacobi says. “Smartphone motion-tracking technology allows for navigational control through head movement to complete the equation.”

A second possible obstacle is the “cyber sickness” many new VR users experience, a disorienting phenomenon that produces symptoms similar to motion sickness.

“The experience can cause unsteadiness and nausea extending beyond the classroom,” Jacobi says. “To mitigate this, brief learners about symptoms to watch for, limit session time and encourage breaks.”

If your company is considering a VR application for safety training, Murphy says these four questions can help guide your decision-making process:

  1. How does VR add to the learning experience?

    “Be sure to understand what value VR adds for the learner and design the immersion to deliver what’s needed,” she says.

  2. Can we get the desired results without it?

    “VR is not the ideal choice for every situation,” Murphy advises. “It is best used for immersive situations rather than simple, procedural training.”

  3. Which devices will we use?

    “Devices needed will vary depending on learning goals and the planned training time and location,” she says. “Choose carefully and plan to train on use and support.”

  4. How will we track and measure training activities?

    “When investing in VR, it’s important to understand how success will be defined and measured, and to have a plan for capturing these success metrics,” Murphy says.

Jacobi, Murphy and Kapp will share more insights on integrating VR applications into your safety training during the Safety 2018 Session S671, “Virtual Reality: Actual Hazards,” on Tuesday, June 5, 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Jonathan Jacobi, M.S., CSP, is a senior EHS advisor with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) EHS Sustainability. He has more than 25 years’ OSH leadership experience and holds degrees in Occupational Health and Safety from Murray State University.


E. Andrew Kapp, Ph.D., CSP, CHMM, is the research manager at Underwriters Laboratories. He conducts applied research in the area of workplace health and safety, provides expertise and support to other related research projects and communicates research results through various outreach programs and industry presentations.


Susan Murphy, M.A., is director of professional learning services for UL EHS Sustainability. She has more than 20 years’ experience leading the development and delivery of instructor-led and web-based training programs for a wide variety of organizations. She holds B.A and M.A. degrees from the University of Oxford in England. 

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