It’s common knowledge that a large majority of jobsite accidents are caused by new employees, usually those within six months of starting on the job.
At AEC firm Haskell, new employees receive comprehensive safety training and testing to minimize these types of incidents. The company, which is focused on commercial, industrial and civil infrastructure markets, had a Recordable Incident Rate last year of 0.36 for 2.7 million man-hours (compared with the industry RIR average of 2.8 for a comparable amount of hours).
Nevertheless, the company’s training and safety managers are always looking for ways to improve, said Hamzah Shanbari, Haskell's manager of Construction Technology and Innovation, during an interview with Construction Dive.
“Our target is zero incidents,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody who comes onto a jobsite goes home safely.”
Shanbari said the company's training tools, such as safety videos and online quizzes, are a good start in educating new employees, but leaders at the Jacksonville, Florida-based firm wanted to enhance existing safety training with interactive technology. The team looked to virtual reality simulation systems but found that none of the packages on the market fit Haskell's needs. They didn't provide overarching training for a variety of hazards and very few were focused on construction settings, Shanbari said.
So company leaders decided to create a VR program through Haskell’s one-year-old corporate venture capital arm, Dysruptek. Founded to make direct and indirect investments in emerging AEC technologies, it is focused on research and development and other new construction solutions, he said.
As part of Dysruptek, Haskell recently opened a R&D center in Atlanta and is fostering relationships with several local colleges including the Georgia Institute of Technology and Kennesaw State University. One of its latest investments is a prefab design and manufacturing firm called Blox.
For its interactive safety training initiative, the company partnered with students from Kennesaw's Department of Software Engineering and Game Development to help create software that trains and evaluates employees on a variety of topics. Called HERO, the Hazard Elimination/Risk Oversight program relies on video game-like images and controllers to immerse users in a virtual world of hazardous pitfalls.
It assesses users’ abilities to recognize safety infractions on a virtual jobsite that was created from 3D and drone videos and images taken at a Haskell wastewater treatment plant project in St. Petersburg, Florida. “We took a lot of pictures, including 360-degree images, and deployed a drone over the jobsite to create a 3D environment,” Shanbari said.
The program requires trainees to tag safety issues in eight categories: roof/leading edge protection; floor covers; overhead work zones; controlled access zones; flagman/spotters; backup alarm/horn; perimeter protection; and barricades.
“In addition to being immersive, it’s very dynamic because you can change the hazards every time someone plays it,” he said.
At the end of a session, the user and instructor receive a screenshot showing the hazards that were identified and missed. By feeding HERO data into Haskell's continuous improvement cycle, the results also can be used to assess and adjust training modules. Plus, the information can be used to cross-reference the data collected from the field to identify additional trends.
The HERO programming team relied on several existing programs, including OneNote, Autodesk Revit, Revit's Enscape plug-in and Unity, a gaming engine that was used for the majority of coding and interactivity. The Unity asset store was especially helpful, Shanbari said, because it offered downloadable models of items found on a jobsite like cranes and scissor lifts. He declined to disclose the total cost of the HERO system.
While HERO is still in the testing stages, Shanbari's intent is to implement it companywide. “We want to make it a mandatory part of our training platform before someone can go out onto the jobsite,” he said.
Before then, project leaders are looking for ways to make the system more flexible and mobile — right now it requires a desktop computer and heavy Oculus headset. The company also plans to make the technology available to other construction firms, including competitors. This type of sharing is crucial for the health of the industry, Shanbari said.
“If I work on something and keep it to myself it’s not going to help the industry move forward,” he said. “We’re looking at the roadmap ahead.”
Tools like HERO also help Haskell appeal to young workers looking for jobs that emphasize technological solutions. Company representatives highlight it at career fairs and recruitment meetings. “It shows the people we’re recruiting that Haskell is definitely looking into this aspect of the construction field and that entices them to come join us,” he added.