How Virtual Reality is Changing the Safety Game

Virtual and augmented reality programs are no longer just for playing video games; they’re the future of safety. VR and AR technology allows companies to create safe, engaging, cost effective training environments for their employees. This type of training leads to high knowledge retention since practicing something is one of the top methods for retaining information. In addition, it’s more beneficial for employees because they receive individualized feedback on their strengths and weaknesses when they perform a safety procedure. This technology is becoming more mainstream, particularly in high risk industries such as construction, mining, forestry and oil and gas.

Virtual Reality

VR is a complete immersion into a digital world. It uses sight, sound, and sometimes even motion, to recreate realistic environments. This technology can be used to simulate settings and allow employees to practice handling high risk situations in a safe, yet seemingly realistic environment. It’s one thing to read about safety procedures; it’s another to actual perform them. The last thing you want to happen when there’s a safety threat is to have someone hesitate or fumble under the pressure. By practicing these procedures beforehand, workers will be more prepared and confident when handling these situations in the field.

Take a mine rescue situation, for example. Oxygen is depleting as rescuers have to navigate through smoke, find extinguishers and communicate with outside operators. Smart, timely decisions must be made while lives are at stake. These conditions can’t be fully replicated in a normal training environment, but it can with the proper VR software.

Some common simulators used in the construction industry include practicing scaffold safety or operating cranes. Crane accidents are rarely minor incidents, so ensuring workers know how to operate one prior to their first day out in the field is key to their safety and the safety of others. VR can also be used for construction pre-planning. A construction company can identify potential flaws before they start building and avoid a hazardous, logistical nightmare.

Augmented Reality

AR is the middle ground between VR and reality, in that it adds digital elements to a real-time view. AR technology is usually incorporated into headsets to display information over the live image, but it can also be used on mobile devices. This technology is especially beneficial when training with lower risk safety equipment. An example of this is an AR fire extinguisher simulator, where individuals use an actual fire extinguisher while using an AR screen. The user can choose an item to virtually “set on fire” through the screen, and then use the physical extinguisher to put it out and practice pulling the pin, aiming, squeezing and sweeping.

Another use for AR is to provide immediate information to workers. Experts can provide real-time assistance to employees with AR glasses without having to be on the scene, saving both time and money. They can see what is happening from the employee’s point of view and indicate which actions should be taken. This is especially beneficial for more advanced technicians who no longer have to spend as much time training and can instead focus on their jobs. Employees can also pull up information about fixing a particular part or conducting an inspection directly in front of them while they are operating, rather than consulting charts or instruction manuals.

Caterpillar uses an AR app to guide technicians when they learn how to perform maintenance checks and servicing. The AR goggles display the name and locations of the various components over the machine in the technician’s field of vision.

The future of safety is digitized. As safety technology continues to evolve, it’s essential to move away from outdated techniques and embrace what this technology has to offer.

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By Leah Carson

July 30, 2019

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