Virtual reality could improve worker safety training, emergency preparedness: study

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Birmingham, England — The use of immersive virtual reality systems could help enhance workplace safety and health training and preparedness for fire evacuation and other emergencies, results of a recent study out of the United Kingdom suggest.

During the two-part study, researchers from the University of Nottingham had participants wear VR headsets while navigating one of two virtual scenarios: escaping an office building that is on fire or engaging in an engine disassembly task that causes a fire. The participants were divided into two groups. One felt the heat from 2-kilowatt heaters and smelled smoke emitted from a scent diffuser, while the other was given only audiovisual cues.

The immersive VR group showed a greater sense of urgency during the exercise and was more likely to avoid the fire. Meanwhile, the audiovisual group treated the experience “more like a game,” according to a Sept. 17 press release.

During the second segment, study participants’ knowledge of either fire safety or vehicle disassembly safety procedures were tested using VR training or PowerPoint presentations. The participants answered questions before and after undergoing training, then again one week later.


The PowerPoint group gained more knowledge immediately after the training, but the VR group retained more knowledge one week later. The VR group also reported higher levels of engagement, better attitude toward occupational safety and health, and greater willingness to undertake training in the future, the release states.

“Health and safety training can fail to motivate and engage employees and can lack relevance to real-life contexts,” Glyn Lawson, associate engineering professor at the University of Nottingham, said in the release. “Our research 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.”

The study results were presented Sept. 17 at the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s annual conference in Birmingham.

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