How to use simulation for more effective crew training

It’s often said that when teamwork is working right, it’s the job site’s most important safety feature — but when it’s not, it is the job site’s biggest hazard.

Teamwork is important for specific tasks that require the entire crew to be clear on the language that everyone else is using, with the same goal, and the same understanding about who is accountable for what.

For example, team cohesion is vital when a crane is picking and placing a load, with riggers, spotters, signallers, and operators all needing to make sure the operator has eyes where they need to be.

This is doubly true for more challenging operations such as dual lifts, where a significant degree of risk is involved, or for highly repetitive tasks, where complacency can lead to communication breakdowns.

In tomorrow’s world of physical distancing and additional safety measures, where new rules and habits must be rapidly learned and applied, effective communication and teamwork are even more critical.

However, teamwork and communication can be challenging skills to train, let alone screen for in new employees. That doesn’t make them any less important to a company’s bottom line: Teamwork is about more than safety. It also impacts productivity and profitability. After all, ineffective team work creates an environment that’s overexposed to the potential for errors, wasted time, and the need to rework.

On the other hand, with effective team work, along with the obvious safety benefits, we also see improved work quality, accountability, and usage of resources.1

So how do you build effective crew communication skills? And, given the infrastructure stimulus that is likely to be a feature of the economic landscape, how do you screen your new hires for their teamwork abilities?

This question is critical at any time, given the extremely high turnover rate in the construction industry. But in an era where physical distancing heightens the need for effective teamwork, you need to plan for it.

Setting them up for success

There are some activities that are best undertaken in a pressure-free, safe learning environment rather than during a high-stakes operation.

Simulation allows you to evaluate teamwork skills, and target areas that need improving, all in an environment that poses far fewer hazards to personnel, equipment, and property. Of course, it is entirely possible to do this with the real equipment, on a real worksite, but the complexity and costs involved, along with hygiene considerations, are typically substantial and require a fair degree of logistics to organize.

Not only does simulation allow crews to rehearse and practice teamwork and get on the same page with respect to work requirements, it also gives them a chance to “walk in the other person’s shoes” and understand the challenges that the other crew members face. This alone constitutes one of the key ingredients to effective communication.

Simulation-based training also provides a unique opportunity to engage young workers with innovative technology, and allows organizations to evaluate the skill set of applicants all while being off-site and at a safe distance.

Training solutions that minimize risk

In a perfect world, training areas are accessible 24/7, and in all weather. Simulation provides these ideal conditions, and with connected simulators, operator trainees can develop teamwork skills in collaboration with other trainees at any time, at their own pace.

Crew training functionality from CM Labs includes tandem lift operations for crawler cranes and mobile cranes, where the lead crane operator learns how to safely and efficiently maneuver a steel pipe load in tandem with a secondary crane, operated from another simulator connected on the network.

The crew training exercise for earthmoving enables an excavator operator to learn how to safely and efficiently fill an articulated dump truck, while another trainee learns how to operate the truck, interact with the excavator, and drive on various types of terrain.

The simulation reproduces critical machine reactions, such as motion of the dump truck when the dirt hits the trailer. These features allow operators to provide more accurate feedback to each other, and develop positive communication habits that transfer to the real equipment and the real jobsite — in an environment that allows for proper physical distancing between trainees and trainers alike.

In both cases, a Signalperson Training Station can be added into the mix, along with an Instructor Operating Station (IOS) that allows a trainee to monitor operations from a supervisor perspective, in order to train even larger crews, all at a safe distance. This remote workstation can be set up within the classroom or a different location, and like the simulators can be easily wiped down and sanitized after each use so operators get hands-on experience in a secure and hygienic way.

Simulation is also a proven solution for training groups of new operators more rapidly, as the instructor-trainee ratio is improved, while providing operators with more hands-on seat time than they might see with real equipment.

Screening new hires for teamwork skills

It can be challenging to assess a potential recruit’s ability to communicate effectively on the job site, but a tool like the IOS can help. It is useful for organizations looking to assess the teamwork skills of new hires, as well as their raw skills, since it provides automated features for monitoring evaluation sessions. Beyond simple pass/fail outcomes, the IOS captures, records, and reports machine and performance data generated during the simulator session. This data is then rolled up into a score that updates in real time and that can be stored in a database, or simply printed to a report for a paper trail.

Organizations should look for a scoring system that can be customized in order to take their specific priorities into account. For example, they may place a higher or lower degree of importance on considerations such as collisions, human contact, or exceeding time limits, and this should be reflected in the scoring system.

When the economy starts revving back up, many companies will find themselves with the comparatively agreeable challenge of needing to upskill new operators rapidly. The simulation approach to crew training is a safer, cost-effective approach to solving it.
1. VNMan Power