Simulation Promotes Safety

May 1st, 2020

Being safe: no incidents, no accidents. And that’s why a good equipment operator is always, first and foremost, a safe equipment operator.

The fact is, for every $1 spent in direct costs (repairs for damaged equipment, medical expenses for injured people), you’ll typically spend an additional $2 to $4 in indirect costs (downtown, delays in project schedules, workplace disruptions) [1].

But training-to-be-safe means more than following an Operations Manual, because equipment operators need to become safetyconscious too.  How to do that?

Well, Confucius was right: “What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand.” And because simulation is learning by doing, it is exactly the right kind of tool to promote safety. Here’s how.

Make Mistakes without Consequences

Everyone makes mistakes when learning anything, whether you’re playing hockey or operating heavy equipment.

But in the real world, mistakes have real world consequences, and that’s what you want to avoid.

Simulation to the rescue, where mistakes have no consequences! And when the simulation graphics and physics are sufficiently realistic, simulation promotes safety in these three important ways:

  • Instructors teach by showing, to demonstrate what to do and what not to do. Imagine:  making mistakes “on purpose”, to ensure that everyone understands what can happen to equipment and people.  And because simulation also “situates” the viewpoint in a realistic way inside the cabin, instructors can communicate limitations imposed on visibility, including the presence of blind spots.
  • Trainees learn by doing, in a way that’s completely safe. In fact, simulation will measure how quickly and especially how carefully you work in ways that go well beyond what you could measure in the real world, to develop safe operating habits.  And when those “Performance Indicators” are sufficiently comprehensive, new operators “naturally” learn to first work slowly and carefully, and then work quickly (and still carefully) until the simulation results are good enough and trainees “graduate” to real equipment.  Note that this simulator-based “getting ready” will also help new operators “ramp up” much more quickly, shortening the duration of that real seat-time training and thereby lowering the cost.
  • Experienced operators become safer, by better understanding the danger associated with bad habits. (After all, a bad habit is just a “learned mistake”.) The fact is, experienced operators are always sharing operating “tricks”, but something learned by watching others can nonetheless be unsafe. And one day, that unsafe practice will cause an “incident” or “accident”, leaving everyone to wonder why. (“I always do that, and there’s never been a problem!”)  Well, comprehensive Performance Indicators will reveal that unsafe bad habit and help your operator “un-learn” it.

Make Everyone Safety-Conscious

Of course, promoting workplace safety also means making everyone else working around heavy equipment safety-conscious too, whether in a warehouse or on a construction site. (This is sometimes called “awareness training”.)

To that end, simulators become a key part of annual “Safety Week”, to give everyone working in the warehouse or the construction site an opportunity to become more safety-conscious by learning for themselves that

  • heavy equipment is big and dangerous (when the engine’s running)
  • the operator can’t always see you, due to blind spots in the cabin
  • equipment can’t “stop on a dime” (or “turn on a dime”) when you’re getting too close

And that’s in addition to what we noted already about making mistakes without consequences, to help

  • instructors teach by showing
  • trainees learn by doing
  • experienced operators become safer

Your Bottom Line

According to [1], every $1 invested in injury prevention returns $2 to $4, and the cost savings from avoiding even one workplace injury is $37,000. And perhaps the most cost-effective way of investing in risk reduction is better operator training, where simulation can play an important role.

The fact is, when a workplace is safer, it’s easier to retain your current workforce, avoiding staff turnover and new operator training costs. Of course a safer workplace is also a more attractive workplace, when you’re competing for qualified new hires.

Isn’t time to add simulation to your safety toolbox?


[1] “Journey to Safety Excellence: The Business Case for Investment in Safety”, National Safety Council, White Paper, 2014. Available from