OSHA Fall Safety Training

Fall Prevention in Construction with Virtual Reality
OSHA - Susan Harwood
Purdue University
6 stage virtual training program
My Role
Creator, UX Designer
6 months
Tools Used
Adobe illustrator, InDesign, Miro


Falls are the leading cause of death in construction.

Fall safety training is critical in preventing fatal injuries when working from height. Fall safety training in VR safely and efficiently trains workers in multiple languages while providing hands on experience around safety equipment and hazards on the worksite. This page covers my journey through the product design and creation of the commercial and residential fall safety training program.

Publication and full project available for download

OSHA Fall Safety Training was proposed to the Envision Center by James Jenkins, a Construction Management professor at Purdue University. The Envision Center worked with James to secure a grant proposal to create Fall safety training for virtual reality, claiming the potential as an inexpensive training method and effective training tool in its ability to visually represent the dangers of falls in construction.


OSHA fall safety training is primarily taught via power-point.

With images of job-sites and hours of lecture, the long and particular training can be quite tiresome to sit through. However, certification is a necessity and must be taken seriously as proper training can prevent fatal injuries.

• Training on a real jobsite
is dangerous and costly

• Slideshow lectures are
not engaging and lack context


Using VR to safely conduct training on a virtual job-site.

VR Fall Safety training features voice-acted mentorship from a Construction Management professor, guiding players through multiple modules of interactive learning material. Subtitles are included in multiple languages.

I created the visual guide to help users comprehend the material, provide instruction for interaction, and supplement detailed information such as OSHA regulation codes.

I worked on Interaction design, Instructional design and User testing.


Upon being selected for an instructional innovation grant, after having been conceptualized and presented, was delegated to a few of us at the Envision Center. The college professor that proposed the project gave us, the design and development team, a quick lesson on the construction safety content we would be covering. The safety instructional material, his guidance, and the notion that we would be making some kind of virtual reality learning and certification program for OSHA was about all we had to go off of.


• Subject matter
• Problem frame


• Storyboard
• Discussions


• Sketches
• Visual guide
• Script


• Interactions
• 3D models
• Audio recording


• User testing
• Retention
• Usability


The stakeholders presented the project requirements, expectations and provided all of the teaching material their curriculum covers. From here I had the goal of making a fun and simple game that could effectively educate on heart hFall Safety Training and many other safety training programs are limited to classroom instruction and involve hours of slideshow presentations. The classes for OSHA Fall Safety certification often span multiple days and feature multiple examinations.

The slideshow lecture certification process covers subject matter that requires attendees to extend their imagination regarding procedures and scenarios. The limitations of classroom instruction directly impact the quality of safety instruction for hands-on activities, particular precarious situations and potentially fatal incidents.

The problems faced when proposing changes to the current certification method include an infeasibility and inherent danger in teaching these courses on a real worksite, students have trouble staying focused during the long slideshow courses which impedes retention, safety demonstrations and other effective training methods are very dangerous and expensive.

But when instructing procedures that when not performed appropriately can result in fatal falls and other injuries, the potential for a better means of instruction can be highly sought after.

Problem Frame

The problem was framed through the grant process and further design discussions and entailed improvement to retention with immersive learning material.

Visualizing falls and working from height captures attention, forming stronger memories

Subject Matter

Designing course structure, managing learning materials, and integrating meaningful interactive demonstrations requires encyclopedic knowledge of fall safety and OSHA regulations.

"A wise teacher makes learning a joy. "


Additionally, based on the stakeholders target market age determined to be 30-55 years and with some descriptors of their typical attendees allowed me Transitioning from just a proposition, to a funded project, and delivered to our prepped minds and eager hands, the vision began to take shape through sketches, notes, discussions and documents. We knew what we had to teach but we weren't sure how.

We knew what the regulations said, but we didn't know what they all meant. We knew what some of the tools were called, but we didn't know how to use them or what they even look like. We pondered how to virtual train workers on these safety materials while we ourselves had to learn these same lessons by scouring OSHA documentation and archived power-points.

Luckily we had consistent access to our construction safety subject matter expert, and all the time spent soaking information would be passed onto the rest of the team through design documents, programming documents, and the growing reference that is the visual guide.to create basic personas to help understand who I was designing this game for.


Laying out all of the proposed content in storyboard form helped the team better gauge the project scale and make critical decisions such as separating residential safety training
Rough early storyboards were created for each proposed module so that expectations could be aligned, aiding future design discussions by homogenizing the project vision.


With the knowledge gained from the online training materials on OSHA's website, we were able to conceptualize the necessary elements of the scenes, discern features like interactable objects, and outline the overall progression through the material via a screenplay-like script.


Sketching scene layout and white-boarding to discuss the development of interactions and progression through the curriculum. Here are a few sketches and notes that were taken documenting the progression from conceptualization to realization.

When determining the instruction method and approach to an otherwise open world jobsite in VR led us to create a trained confident worker to act as a mentor for the user who would also control the area of the jobsite the user is at. From here the user would be able to reach any necessary tools or interactable objects. The jobsite mentor works in conjunction with an virtual assistant that provides visual references, controls tutorials, as well as citing the specific OSHA regulations.

An early sketch of the concept for harness inspection, having a floating model in front of the user that they can manipulate and inspect. This method optimizes the need for physics interactions as well as simplifying users interaction expectations for an otherwise complicated harness and lanyard system. Other text found here are various notes regarding the design.

This is an overview of the various interactions, systems and design values to incorporate. This was at an early stage once we were getting an idea of everything we planned to develop and needed to cover. on the left you can see an early sketch of the ladder placement interaction sequence.

Visual Guide

A visual aid synced with dialogue to provide context and details.

From what started as a portable handheld device meant to provide real world images and navigation between lessons became a persistent visual guide. This 'giant iPad' provided all the necessary supplemental information while sustaining the context for the dialogue. Utilizing this 2D presentation format in our virtual space made it easier as an educator and for trainees to make the transition from stationary to active learning. With this solution I displayed real-world images, many graphics and illustrations, guardrail schematics, detailed OSHA regulation verbiage and concise explanations helping users follow along through the entirety of the training.


The initial script was written by a construction professor. The script was then held under the scrutiny of our entire team until the critical issues were resolved. The script was scoured for issues and edited to a reasonable size.

As the project's grant was issued on just the proposal, the prototype we created was to be the foundation for the final product as well as a launchpad and testing product for usability and retention evaluation. In order to manage the project, multiple spreadsheets and documents were created and populated by team members to facilitate the creation of virtual fall safety training.

The primary workflow came about through the script creation process which were synthesized into design documents for other team members. These design documents allowed me to share the vision and content awareness quickly with the whole team, saving them time on their work.

3D Models

Audio Recording

As there were nearly hours of audio content that needed to begin recording as soon as possible, changes were streamlined for the script in order to finalize at least the first module so our audio engineer could begin his work. Before scripts were finalized, the audio team focused on creating other sound effects and any auxiliary audio snippets.


The value of being in VR is the ability to participate in demonstrations.

The interaction design process was an ongoing balancing act of optimization and simplification, and a constant communication cycle between the programmers and myself, with validation from the construction professor. Beyond the basic point-n- click menus and interactable static objects, a few key and potentially complex motor activities had to be demonstrated. The most challenging of these activities we designed and successfully implemented were harness and lanyard inspection. We intentionally avoided using additional body trackers to enable users to functionally 'equip' the harness in order to maintain focus on inspection and familiarization. This also reduced the complexity and workload put on both the programmers and users.

Interaction Design

Measuring Guardrails

The tape measure is a simple measuring tool allowing users to perform measurements of guardrails on the jobsite. Aiming the controller and pulling the trigger extends the tape toward the object of interest, displaying the measurement in digits above the hand.

Harness Inspection

Harnesses can be inspected through physical manipulation of two floating harnesses to allow comparison between damaged and undamaged harnesses, highlighting the critical failure points.

Lanyard Inspection

Inspection requires making a U-shape bend along the length of the lanyard. Users can change the position of the bend with a simple hand motion to perform a visual inspection.

Fall Distance Test

The fall distance test is the  culmination of fall safety training. Users must perform an inspection and appropriate installation of the fall arrest system. The equipment is then tested, with its results being demonstrated by a virtual ragdoll, minus the traumatic details and sound effects.

Safe Ladder Use

Proper placement and safe use of ladders prevents injury. Users are asked to place an extension ladder against a house at the proper angle. By standing in the right place and extending their arms completely demonstrates the proper 4:1 angle for placing extension ladders.



Evaluation beyond internal testing sought participation from a local construction group. Pepper construction volunteered multiple trained construction workers to provide feedback and the opportunity for observation while they engaged in the virtual training. Afterwards, participants claimed that this virtual method for training was a more fun and engaging way of learning compared to the methods they were used to. The data we gathered helped us make improvements to the program and to proceed with the remaining development with confidence. Here are some images we took from our round of testing.

User Testing

We conducted user testing with Pepper construction. We tested 4 construction workers gathering data on the content as well as usability testing the application. We brought 4 HTC Vive systems to run the tests simultaneously. Users went through the entirety of the first 3 Modules. This was a great opportunity to get feedback on the work we’ve done and affirm that we have covered the content accurately.

Lessons Learned


The content of the simulation successfully covered all of the necessary training material in an easy to understand manner. Fatigue from standing still and reading along made it difficult to maintain focus but the visual aid and subtitles helped keep users on track with the curriculum. Overall the users had no trouble completing retention quizzes afterward and felt positive toward the new training method we presented. Following the standard we met for the first half of the training we were confident in our ability to produce a quality final product.


The extent of the content and duration of the training presents fatigue concerns for users. Consider further reducing the overall dialogue length, provide seating for trainees inside VR, and provide alternative methods for presenting the material. The most requested implementation from stakeholders at OSHA was to provide the learning material as 360° YouTube videos to enable full accessibility. Future training implementations may consider a hybrid approach in which users watch videos from their monitor or phone and enter VR for opportunities in interactive learning and evaluation demonstrations.


We were able to bring a small team together to realize the vision of bringing fall safety and excavation OSHA training programs to life through the increasingly accessible technology of virtual reality. We were able to retain the educational performance of traditional courses while boosting retention with novel interactive learning sequences on scale jobsites, giving trainees hands on experience without the risk involved in falls and trench collapse.

Take a look at some of my other projects!