VR pilot in WH&S reduces risks and saves Burke Shire Council thousands in training costs

SurePact partnered with Next World Enterprises to deliver an innovative virtual reality program that reduced risk, boosted morale and saved money on training costs for Burke Shire Council.

The client

The Shire of Burke is a local government area in North West Queensland, lying on the south coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria and sharing a border with the Northern Territory. The Shire covers an area of 39,684 square kilometres, but 80 per cent of its residents live in the two major townships of Burketown and Gregory Downs.

Burke Shire Council has an annual budget of $18.9 million, and is reliant on Commonwealth and Queensland Government grant funding, which makes up 54 per cent of its budgeted revenue.

Burke Shire Council VR

The problem

Burke Shire is considered a remote living environment, and is further isolated by a wet season that limits road access each summer. Because of this, work health and safety (WH&S) training for Council employees has traditionally been delivered by trainers flying into the area, or by staff travelling more than 450km away to centres such as Mount Isa, making training both inconvenient and costly.

Making the situation even more difficult, the Shire was declared a Pandemic Zone Permit area after the onset of COVID-19. This meant that no trainers or outsiders could enter the region without extenuating reasons.

The Council recognised that WH&S training is critical to maintaining both safety and compliance. The Council also understood that the difficulties with accessing this training had the potential to compromise the safety of employees and the community, and could lead to escalating costs – both financial and otherwise.

At the same time, the Council identified high staff turnover as a problem that could be addressed by engaging staff with WH&S training that felt less like a chore and more like a desired solution.

There was a clear need, then, for an innovative WH&S training program that could be conveniently, consistently and cost-effectively delivered to Council employees in the Burke Shire.

The solution

SurePact – the award-winning software-as-a-service (SaaS) solution that identifies and mitigates risks at each decision point of a grant, project or contract, through to asset realisation – partnered with Next World Enterprises, a dedicated virtual reality training provider, to deliver virtual WH&S training to Burke Shire Council employees for a two-month trial period.

While wearing virtual reality headsets, staff were taken through animated scenarios and responded to questions using a handpiece. The training modules, available on-demand and in real-time, included WH&S courses on topics such as manual handling, working at heights, confined spaces and chainsaw management.

The virtual nature of the training was intended to reduce travel and accommodation expenses for staff and trainers, and make WH&S training more engaging and accessible for all staff, leading to improved learning retention and compliance, reduced risk for Council programs and projects, and more efficient work outcomes.

Clare Keenan, CEO of Burke Shire Council, said the innovative program was the ideal solution for the Council’s situation.

“As a very remote Council and being strapped for cash, being early adopters of technology has massive benefits,” Ms Keenan said. “With the borders of our Shire closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19, flying trainers in was not a possibility. Burke Shire Council jumped at the opportunity offered by SurePact as part of their innovative expansion to pilot virtual reality WH&S training by Next World Enterprises.”

The results

The virtual training program was an immediate success for Burke Shire Council, with rapid uptake and acceptance among staff. Over the two-month period, more than 50 staff completed up to four WH&S virtual reality modules each – all without having to take staff offsite or fly trainers in from outside the community.

The benefits to Burke Shire Council of on-demand WH&S training for all staff included:

  • Reduced WH&S risks
  • Improved WH&S compliance
  • Improved employee welfare
  • Reduced training costs

VR learning resulted in a 73 per cent improvement in engagement levels, with participants reporting that they retained, on average, 67 per cent more knowledge through VR.

As expected, the virtual training technology eliminated the costs of flights, accommodation and food incurred by sending staff away for training or flying trainers to remote areas, saving the Council and ratepayers money. The ‘working at heights’ modules alone, for instance, result in a cost saving of up to $2500 per person.

The virtual training, available at multiple locations within the Shire, also reduced the amount of time that staff had to be absent from work, and was conducive with social distancing requirements, as it didn’t require large staff gatherings in training rooms.

As a result of this innovative program, Burke Shire Council went on to win the Bush Council Innovation Award 2020.

David Gornalle, WH&S contractor for Burke Shire Council, said the staff “retained more using the VR experience than sitting in a classroom”, and the training had a positive effect on team morale.

“WH&S is for the entire business, and it does not have to be ‘just another task’,” Mr Gornalle said. “Next World and SurePact are doing a great job teaming up so that it can be fun and informative, and this experience is bringing the ‘Wow’ back to the safety training arena.”

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