Virtual reality: security training that works

Written on 01/09/2021

In this article we want to tell you about a technology with the potential to completely transform the way safety to capacitation and training is carried out: virtual reality. As we will see, large companies around the world use this technology to train their workers and help them work with fewer accidents.

Safety at work is a very relevant issue worldwide. In the United States alone, 4,572 related to accidents at work occurred in 2019. In other words, each day of the year, 12 workers lost their lives while doing their jobs. According to the National Safety Council, the body in charge of collecting this information, all these deaths could have been prevented.

Despite the fact that working conditions seem to improve every year, accidents continue to be a major problem for companies and organizations around the world. According to the NSC, preventable accidents in the United States during 2019 cost the economy $ 171 billions. This is more money than the GDP of most latin american countries.

To prevent accidents and take care of their workers, many companies allocate significant financial and human resources in training and education. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of these initiatives in reducing accidents is highly questionable. Although many studies and experiments have been carried out seeking to show the impact of training on the accident rate of workers, to date none has been able to provide conclusive evidence.

It’s hard to believe, but we keep doing training and training without being very sure if they really work.

If we inquire into common training methods, which are generally expository classes on safety protocols, it is not very surprising that no real accident results are seen. Fortunately, this landscape is beginning to change thanks to the entry of new technologies and teaching methodologies that allow workers to actively engage during the training.

A very promising technology in this area, especially in high-risk jobs, is virtual reality (VR). Various experiences, both in real situations and experimental designs, have yielded very promising results regarding the potential of this technology to reduce accidents at work. Virtual Reality may be the missing element for security training to have the expected impact.

For this reason, in this article we want to tell you how this technology works, what are the proven benefits it has for security training and tell you some examples of large companies that currently use them. We hope it is useful to think about how you could use this technology for training in your company. Got it.

Virtual Reality (VR)

When we talk about Virtual Reality, we mean making a person experience a digitally simulated environment in the most immersive way possible. The most common method of generating this immersion is through a virtual reality headset or headset: a device that projects an image onto the user’s field of vision and makes them experience a virtual scene.

The image projected by these devices, known as HMD (Head-installed-display), adapts in real time to the movement of the user’s head. In this way, this technology tricks our brain by generating a sensation of total immersion that produces completely real sensations, between astonishment, excitement and fright.

For example, when using virtual reality in safety training for work at height, workers feel dizzy, when looking down, as if they were actually at height. This ability of virtual reality to make us live an experience as if it were real is essential for training, because the more the simulation resembles the real situation, the easier it is to apply what has been learned. In this way, this technology helps us close the gap between the safety practices that are taught for workers and those that they ultimately apply in their work.

It is also important to note that when virtual reality is used to train the operation of a machine, the viewers are accompanied by control devices very similar to those used in reality, making the experience even more immersive.

Another fundamental advantage offered by virtual reality applied to training is the ability to make mistakes without negative consequences. For example, in a virtual reality situation of driving a truck or crane, workers can have all kinds of accidents, from crashes to rollovers. Rolling over or crashing in virtual reality feels very real, which will leave an unforgettable memory for the worker. Without any of the catastrophic consequences of doing so in real life.

When learning, it is inevitable to make mistakes. Virtual reality allows us to make mistakes as much as we need before we face the real situation.

What does science say?

Virtual reality seems to be the perfect technology for security training to have the expected effect. What does science say about it? In this section we will review the experimental evidence on the effectiveness of this tool.

In an article published in 2013
in the scientific journal Construction Management and Economics, it was sought to measure the impact of immersion in virtual reality to improve the safety skills of a group of construction workers. To this end, a group of 66 workers was recruited. Half received traditional training in risk prevention, using exhibition and slides, while the other half was trained using virtual reality as a complement.
article published in 2013

To measure the effectiveness of both types of training, safety knowledge and risk identification measurements were made at three different times: just before the intervention, just after, and one month later. The results that were found are quite favorable for virtual reality, the workers who used this technology in their training had a performance of 20% higher in the measurements after the course. This difference was maintained when the workers were evaluated one month after activity. Finally, this study highlights that the participants of the virtual reality training shower much greater concentration and attention during the training: they looked at their phone less and asked for fewer “breaks” to go to the bathroom.

Many other positive experimental measurements of the impact of virtual reality for safety training have been made in the last decade. These are some of the areas where favorable studies have been published in recent years: operation of overhead cranes, training of mining rescue brigades, use of fire extinguishers, evacuation of aircraft, construction with precast concrete, maintenance of electrical equipment and operation of nuclear plants.

In April 2021, the scientific journal Technology, Knowledge and Learning published a systematic review in which 60 studies were analyzed that sought to measure the effectiveness of virtual reality in safety training. The researchers concluded that, in general, these studies showed the ability of this technology to improve spatial memory, learning of safety procedures and other psychomotor skills. A second conclusion from this work is that most of the experiment reported excellent acceptance by the participants. Finally, the author’s highlight the usefulness of this alternative when training in the workplace is impossible or too expensive.

As a closing to their systematic review, these researchers call to continue accumulating evidence, increasing the number of participants and improving evaluation methods. There is no doubt that there is still a lot to investigate in this area: there are still important questions to be answered and systems to be tested.

We are experiencing a great massification of virtual reality viewers, which will surely lead to many experiments that will help us to resolve doubts about this technology. However, we cannot deny that what we have seen to date is promising and supports the idea behind the use of virtual reality for training: the more it resembles the real situation, the more effective the learning will be.

Large companies using virtual reality today

Not all virtual reality is happening in experimental situations. Large companies around the world are currently using this technology for safety training. In this section we want to go through some examples.

The first is ExxonMobil: one of the largest oil companies in the world. In 2019, they launched a virtual reality training program. In this, the participants lived a simulation in which they experienced the loading process of a liquified natural gas tanker. This simulation confronts workers with different risk scenarios, allowing them to hone their instincts, detect their mistakes and make decisions instantly, so that they are better equipped to work smarter and safer.

In the oil industry, ExxonMobil is not the only case where we find virtual reality applied to security. Two European giants: Royal Dutch Shell (known as Shell) and the British Petroleum Company (BP) have used this technology to enhance their safety training and familiarize their workers with oil drilling platforms long before they visit for the first time.

Another very interesting example is that of Walmart. In this retail giant, they have made virtual reality an essential element of their training. This technology is already available in more than 200 of its training centers.

One of the most challenging scenarios for the Walmart employees is serving the hordes of people who visit their stores on Black Friday (the busiest day for commerce in the US). Serving people in this stance is a risky challenge for employees and customers. Using virtual reality, at Walmart they developed a simulation that allows their workers to feel the adrenaline of being among a crowd of shoppers, allowing them to prepare to respond in the best possible way to the real experience.

A third company using virtual reality for their security training is UPS. UPs is one of the largest package carriers in the world, with more than 400,000 employees. In terms of safety, the figures for this company are surprising: more than 10,000 of its drivers have been without accidents for 25 years. Since 2017, this company has used virtual reality to train delivery truck drivers and verify that they apply the concepts of safety behind the wheel that they learn in their training.

At UPS, they use virtual reality training to put drivers in risky situations when they can practice their reactions. According to this company, one of the main advantages is the participation and concentration of the workers during the training, since the simulations help them to concentrate on what they are doing, seeing and listening.

In the construction machinery industry, we have the expertise of United Rentals. This company owns the largest machinery fleet in the world, with more than 600 thousand pieces of equipment under lease. For United Rentals, training their sales agents is essential: they visit construction sites, so they must be experts in equipment, construction and safety. For this reason, the company looked for a way to make its training as close to the real context as possible.

Ideally, you would be able to bring all groups of salespeople-in-training to a construction site, but this is not possible. Therefore, they developed a virtual reality simulation that allows participants to experience a real construction site, which was generated using 360 video. This simulation allows workers to practice their construction site safety and customer engagement skills. This company declared that with this initiative, it managed to reduce its training times by 40%.

A final prominent example is Tyson Foods, the world's second-largest livestock company, which belongs to the select Fortune 500 group of top-earning companies in the United States. At Tyson Foods, they launched a virtual reality program so their workers could train in hazard recognition. According to the company, the results have been very successfully: they declare that, thanks to this initiative, injuries and accidents were reduced by 20% compared to the previous year in addition to improving worker learning, this company highlights that virtual reality programs have allowed bosses to discover new information about the way their team work and interact, which has been a key element in implementing organizational improvements.


In this article we have reviewed everything you need to know about using virtual reality as a tool for security training. The future of this technology is promising: we have scientific evidence of its effectiveness and real experiences in large companies that use it to improve the way their workers respond to risky situations.

As we have seen, the main contribution of this technology to training for risky jobs is its ability to allow participants to experiment, practice and make mistakes without the catastrophic consequences that this would have when doing their work. This, added to the versatility of technology to adapt to the reality of different industries make it a tool with great potential to revolutionize the way workers learn about safety.

If training and safety training is paramount for your company, there is not doubt that this technology can help bridge the gap between training and actual work. If you are interested in exploring this alternative, at Yoy we can help you put the slides aside and develop an unforgettable experience for your workers and effectively improve safety in your company.

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