Drainage engineers in London and the Thames Valley are being sent into an Igloo before they can go down a sewer.
Lanes Utilities and Thames Water have invested in a 360° igloo projection theatre that will transform training by allowing teams to instantly see and hear what it is like to be inside a sewer, though not experience the smell.
The igloo, based at Lanes' Customer Solutions Centre, in Slough, Berks, delivers wraparound sound and vision, so drainage engineers can be immersed in any scenario, no matter how potentially hazardous, without having to leave the training room.
Lanes Utilities, part of Lanes Group, the UK's largest drainage specialist, will use the Igloo theatre - or cylinder - to train teams working on its wastewater network maintenance contract for Thames Water.
Lanes is the first water utilities contractor in the UK to use such a sophisticated facility to train its staff, in a move that is being co-funded by Thames Water Wastewater Networks.
Lanes Utilities Director Andy Brierley said: "The Igloo acts like a giant virtual reality headset. Up to 15 people can receive sewer maintenance training that's as life-like as possible, without them getting their feet wet.
"It will be particularly useful for when we are inducting our people. Keeping everyone safe is our number one priority, so we want our new colleagues to be fully-prepared.
"We will be able to create real-time worksite challenges that place them right in the middle of the action, and fully test what they have learned. It's a game changer in terms of health and safety training."
Mark Grimshaw, Head of Wastewater Networks North London, for Thames Water, said: "Traditionally, staff induction and training has involved recruits doing a lot of sitting and being presented to.
"The Igloo breaks that mould. It brings wastewater training into the 21st Century, and is perfect for the Millennial generation, brought up on gaming and digital TV.
"The aim is to make training and learning much more real, meaningful, interactive and, ultimately, effective. We're very pleased to support Lanes' vision for what the Igloo can achieve."
The Igloo, supplied by Igloo Vision, will become a key resource in both induction and refresher training for the 1,300 field operatives and 350 support staff who work for Lanes on its Thames Water contract.
Andy Brierley said: "Just as many industries, such as aerospace, use simulators to test new ideas and ways of working, we can now do the same. Real time streaming of video and data for central control of specific projects or incidents is also on the cards.
"The motivational effect of such an exciting training environment, on new recruits and our most experienced engineers alike, cannot be overestimated. We expect it to help us retain our experienced people and build even stronger teams.
"It will also be used to train our support teams, so they have a much greater understanding of what happens in the field."
Lanes Utilities is now creating a series of more than 20 bespoke 3600 videos of key sewer and drain maintenance tasks, as real-life documentaries that will be shown in the igloo.
The audio-visual software also allows the creation of multiple interactive scenarios, so trainees will be able to decide what happens next, and learn from the consequences.
Lanes Utilities is responsible for delivering planned and reactive maintenance across Thames Water's 110,000km sewer network on behalf of 15 million wastewater customers.
Its teams complete more than 1,100 jobs per day, including sewer lining, CCTV surveying, civil engineering and blockage investigations. They recently completed the millionth job in just over four years.
In London, Lanes teams work on the largest and oldest sewers in the UK, overcoming some of the toughest challenges a wastewater engineer can face. From now on, many of those challenges will be brought to life in the Igloo.
Lanes Group: www.lanesfordrains.co.uk