A university-developed virtual reality (VR) game could help save the lives of wind turbine technicians who are at risk of fatal accidents or serious injury without regular refresher training.

The game, created by third-year students at Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), comes on the back of an award-winning study from the University’s BEAM Centre, which found technicians struggle to recall key emergency rescue steps within a month of their initial training and need regular practice to maintain their skill level. 

The VR game, overseen by GCU lecturers Hamid Homatash and Julie Campbell, from the Applied Computer Games programme, is designed to be ‘played’ by wind turbine technicians and simulates the key procedures of wind turbine operation and also emergency scenarios. 

The GCU study, which recently won a prestigious Parkman Medal from the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE), is part of a wider study that tested more than 80 wind technicians in the procedural use of rescue kit over a three-month period. It found the average competency levels dropped rapidly within one month of initial training without any routine hands-on practice. Wind technicians are required to carry out routine maintenance and repairs on commercial-scale turbines, with an average height of 60-100m.

Since the research has been published, two workers have died after falling from wind turbines in Scotland alone, with 81 cases of worker injury reported to the Health and Safety Executive across the UK.  

The GCU research team, which included Dr Kenneth Lawani, Professors Billy Hare and Iain Cameron, advocated digital technology as a cost-effective way to deliver top-up refresher training, specifically focused on emergency rescue procedures.

Dr Lawani, senior lecturer and researcher in construction management at GCU, said: “For many organisations, it’s not practical to run regular, life-sized rescue and emergency simulations.

“In a real-life situation, panic can set in, but if the knowledge is fresh in your mind, it can save your life. This game is a quick way to offer a visual, hands-on reminder of key emergency steps. The next step for us is to develop it to a standard ready for industry organisations, such as SSE, ScottishPower Renewables, RWE and Senvion, to use.

“Digital technology is becoming more affordable and VR is already being used for pilot training and practice, and in the medical profession for surgeons.”