Can Video Games Improve Safety Awareness?

Managers and trainers in the workplace struggle each year to reach their employees in a meaningful way when it comes to safety. Some accidents are unavoidable, but the majority occur due to cutting corners, ignoring safety training, or not knowing the correct safety protocols in the first place. Incident rates are particularly high in industries with a lot of moving machinery, such as those that are user-operated and thus subject to human error.

The Forklift Game

One company, Etcetera Edutainment, noticed that the young workers’ rate of incidence when using forklifts was particularly high, and decided to take a new approach: They developed a video game. Basically, the game tasks workers with driving in a virtual warehouse in which they receive feedback and training tips in real time. After completing the game, employees take a test to see if they have retained the taught forklift training information. If they have, they receive a certificate verifying the successful completion.

Why You Should Care

Let’s face it, most safety videos we’ve been subjected to in the workplace are usually snooze-fests from the 1980’s or thereabouts. Young workers are unable to connect with unrealistic scripted roles created decades ago and often respond better to more current and interactive forms of instruction. A major psychological barrier is that if young employees can’t connect with the subject matter of a training session or video, they are much less likely to be able to connect with the critical safety lessons and tips as well. Why view these things as important if the video or outdated technologies teaching it seem distant and even possibly silly.

The forklift safety game is a step in the right direction for a number of reasons, one of which being that it addresses this distancing. You would be hard-pressed to find a teen or young adult today, male or female, who hasn’t dabbled in video games from time to time, be it on their home PC or on a console at a friend’s house. Video games are familiar and easy to relate to for recent generations. This is why lessons taught in a virtual environment are – almost ironically – going to seem more real than those live-acted out on film, or possibly even acted out or talked about in person.

Learning is About Engagement

Another reason these type of safety games could be a win for workplace training is that they force greater engagement by their very nature. When someone watches TV or listens to someone speak, it’s easy to tune things out as the training or information being presented can continue on without any engagement or participation on the audience’s part. In a video game, however, nothing happens unless you’re active and paying attention to controls, to feedback, to the virtual environment your character or avatar exists in; all of these things make it necessary for trainees to invest much more into the training process than is required by more passive formats. Other learning concepts already demonstrate the benefits of more active learning, and young people are familiar with them: Many university students find that learning, memorizing, and internalizing concepts when studying for exams comes much easier when writing out notes or paraphrasing for yourself, rather than just listening to a lecturer. When reading texts, those who practice “talking to the text” (a practice in which the reader asks questions and makes notes in the margins of a paper) are much more likely to remember what they read later on. During CPR training, you don’t get a card for certification until you’ve practiced your chest compressions and breathing on the practice dummy because you’re more likely to remember doing that than the details of a bulleted list on a whiteboard. The examples go on and on. Using video games could take safety training to a new level in the same way by facilitating active learning in the workplace.
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Another inherent benefit of using video games is that they’re FUN. Well, in general, there are surely some bad ones out there, but that’s besides the point! One problem with serious topics like safety is that there seems to be a notion that something serious must also be boring. These two things are, in fact, not synonymous and it’s important to keep that in mind because people tend to find things that are boring easy to ignore. Today you’re competing with even more distractions such as cell phones and other electronic devices. Getting creative with your safety training is an easy way to circumvent that inherent boredom and subsequent lack of attention.

Video Game Training as a Business Opportunity?

Independent developers have been creating video games on shoestring budgets, some even the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. Depending on the size of your company, here’s an idea: Why not hire a developer to create a simple game based upon the most important elements of your training program. Maybe a game that even replicates a simple factory layout and requires workers to control their avatar with a balance of efficiency and safety. Perhaps a game on cleaning up a workplace after a shift. These may seem silly, but a worker is much more likely to remember and associate doing these tasks himself or herself in a game.

Another thing to consider is that, even if your business is fairly specialized, there are probably others out there that need to train in the exact same tasks that you do. Maybe some of them don’t have the resources to get their own training program developed or haven’t been convinced of the potential benefits that could be offered by doing so. This presents a unique business opportunity for those early adopters of such programs, especially those who have software created and retain the licensing rights for it. You can then sell your software to other similar operations in the industry; in this way you’d not only recoup your development costs and possibly turn a profit, but you would also be elevating the standard of safety throughout your sector.

Closing Thoughts

As we move forward, more and more of our workforce will be made up of young employees who learn and function differently from the generation proceeding them. In order to engage these workers businesses need to start branching out in how they train and drive home important concepts. While video games are one way to do this, they are far from the only avenue employers can take.

Other golden opportunities for reaching this audience include:

[sws_yellow_box box_size=”630″]Social Media Engagement: Tweeting and posting safety tips; Facebook and Twitter are where people spend a lot of their time these days, put your content directly in front of their eyeballs by having actively managed social media channels.

Phone Engagement: Text message alerts reach your employees instantly and can be updated as often as possible, this is especially helpful when informing employees of how to handle changing circumstances. Many young people have smartphones now as well, meaning that you could be making use of the app market on iPhone and Android devices to reach employees much in the same way as video games.

Viral Videos: This one is hard to nail without internet savvy, but if you can create a video that gets your training across while being both funny and maybe a little bit ridiculous, you just might get shared all around the internet. A catchy song about safety is easy to remember, if just a bit (okay, a lot) cheesy.[/sws_yellow_box]

The change in technology in the past two decades has far outpaced any span of time preceding it, meaning there are constantly a plethora of new technologies and communication channels waiting to be capitalized on. Videos game training is just a jumping off point at this stage, so go get creative!

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Tony, great thoughts!

I would add that online quizzes are a great way to improve safety awareness. More and more organizations are taking advantage of online quizzes as a tool to teach and test employee’s safety awareness knowledge. Many of them are even free and easy to find, depending on what your focus is.

-Kyle Holland, fellow blogger at Creative Safety Supply

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