VR and EEG for Safer Heights: A Deep Dive into Construction’s Mental Fatigue

This research examines the effects of working at height on mental fatigue using virtual reality and portable EEG SMARTING  (VR and EEG). Construction work, especially at height, presents inherent safety risks. Mental fatigue is a significant contributor to these risks but was inadequately researched in this context.

VR and EEG for Safer Heights in construction

With alarming trends pointing toward increased mental fatigue among such workers, there’s a vital question looming. Does exposure to heights in construction settings amplify the mental strain, and how can this be quantified?

This study aims to bridge this gap. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the cognitive status of workers, when exposed to height.

Brainwaves and Digital Terrains: Unravelling the Approach

VR use in construction safety research

To tackle this query, researchers created a simulated construction environment using VR. This method, novel in the construction sector, allows the isolation of mental fatigue. Participants were immersed in a digital terrain. Their task was performing typical construction activities while recording their cognitive reactions. This offered a unique blend of digital simulation and real-time cognitive monitoring.

Virtual Reality in construction. VR EEG
VR environment in elevated condition (a), and in ground condition (b)

Mental Fatigue Research in Construction

Research has linked mental fatigue to cognitive impairments, leading to potential workplace accidents. EEG recordings are recognized as a viable tool for assessing mental fatigue levels. Portable EEG can offer real-time insights in cognitive status. However, few studies have focused on mental fatigue within the construction domain.

Combining VR and EEG

This study combined a VR and EEG. VR simulations of construction tasks mimicked ground-level and elevated conditions. This approach, steering clear from physical dangers, prioritized understanding the mind’s reactions. Continuous EEG recordings provided seven real-time features, focused on alpha, beta, and theta frequencies. This offered insights into cognitive states at different heights.

VR and EEG setup. Experiment setup
Experiment setup. (a) The subject is wearing mobile EEG SMARTING and HTC Vive headset. (b) – Snippets from virtual environment


Participants, both experienced construction workers and inexperienced individuals, were exposed to tasks at ground level and at height using VR. Portable EEG recordings were used to assess their cognitive state. In addition, NASA-TLX questionnaires were collected to corroborate the EEG findings.

Main findings

Mental Fatigue extracted from portable EEG

Contrary to popular belief, ground-level workers showcased heightened alpha energy values,. This significantly differed from those at altitudes. The results were opposite when examining theta and beta values. Confirming that elevated workers exhibited clear signs of augmented mental fatigue.

This was further confirmed by the diminished beta activity, signalling reduced alertness.

Theta band differences further indicated drowsiness, a sign of increased mental fatigue in the height group. Adding another layer of depth, specific EEG channels manifested as fatigue indicators.

NASA-TLX results

NASA-TLX questionnaires further strengthened these findings. Ground operatives reported amplified mental strain. This subjective sentiment, stood somewhat in contrast to their actual performance errors. But as one sifts through the EEG data and cross-references it with other subjective markers—like effort and frustration—it became evident that altitude amplifies mental exhaustion, suggesting reduced vigilance in the height.

VR and EEG setup. Experiment setup
NASA_TLX results for elevated and ground group

Working at height intensifies mental fatigue

While mental fatigue results from prolonged activities, this study emphasizes that working at height can intensify fatigue levels. Contrary to some prior studies, the mean energy values of the alpha index were higher in the ground group. The study confirms the importance of considering multiple factors. For instance, Emotions and stress, which can influence fatigue. The implications extend to construction safety. This study confirmed the potential for EEG-integrated helmets for real-time fatigue monitoring.

Exploring Elevated Concerns

Navigating the complexities of construction work isn’t just a physical challenge. Mental fatigue, amplified by vertiginous heights, poses a safety risk. This study confirmed that height intensify cognitive weariness, potentially compromising safety standards.

Decoding Insights: From Virtual to Reality

The implications of this study are profound. The construction industry needs to look beyond physical protective gear. With VR and EEG insights suggesting more pronounced mental fatigue at heights, a case for continuous cognitive monitoring emerges. A blend of neuroscience and construction tech, like the smart hard hat, could be the answer. Such an integrated system would assess fatigue in real-time, pre-empting potential hazards.

The convergence of AR, VR and EEG in construction points to a future where worker safety isn’t just about helmets and harnesses. It’s about understanding the brain and optimizing tasks for safety and efficiency.

Blueprint for a Safer Tomorrow

What does this all mean for the construction industry, especially in the age of VR and AR? While VR provides an invaluable tool for simulating high-risk scenarios without actual danger, it doesn’t capture all aspects of a real-world. The data support the need for continuous cognitive monitoring in construction environments. Especially for those exposed to heights. The possibility of integrating real-time VR and EEG, such as a smart hat, opens the door for pre-emptive safety measures potentially saving lives.

Additionally, with the rise of AR, real-world construction tasks can be augmented with digital overlays. Providing that way immediate feedback and data to the workers and supervisors. This fusion of the digital and real can enhance safety protocols, training procedures, and efficiency.

But it’s not just about the potential. The limitations of VR and its inability to replicate the exact physiological reactions at heights are clear. There’s a need for more comprehensive research, involving mixed-reality settings.

In conclusion, this study bridge the realms of neuroscience, construction, and digital technology. There is a promise of a safer, more informed construction environment becomes clearer. It’s not just about building structures anymore. It’s about constructing a future where every worker returns home safely, every day.

Original publication source: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/ECAM-01-2021-0017/full/html

Recommended reading