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Virtual reality technology can be used as a tool to enhance employees’ fire safety awareness

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 places a legal duty on employers to “provide information, instruction and training to employees about fire precautions in the workplace” (bit.ly/2K04qnz).

Leaving an organisation’s legal requirements to one side, however, training is important because it helps to raise awareness around fire safety and also better prepares employees for potential incidents in the workplace, thereby reducing the likelihood of property damage and helping to save lives. In recent years, many businesses have sought to tap into technological advances, most notably virtual reality, and incorporate it within their training programmes.

Virtual reality (VR) is a revolutionary development that makes use of gaming technologies to recreate a digital environment. Using a head-mounted display, also known as a VR headset, the technology immerses the end user in an alternative reality. There are two major types of VR solutions, which provide completely different types of experiences.

In its simplest form, there is 360 VR which provides a three-degrees-of-freedom experience. Typically, this is limited to three rotational movements and allows the end user to see only what’s around them, with very limited interaction. The other type employs digitally modelled environments, which provide six degrees of freedom. This offers the end user complete freedom of movement, complete with greater interactivity and immersion.

The technology tends to be used as part of a wider training packaging and enables employers to build on existing fire safety practices. As a training tool it opens up new possibilities to enhance learning and knowledge retention. Employers can recreate real-life scenarios through training exercises, and transmit visual and auditory information that evokes real-life emotions, albeit in a safe space.

VR can be used to train up fire wardens, providing them with an opportunity to run through the evacuation steps

 

Employee understanding of the fire triangle model is a key element of training. By using VR technology, trainers can provide a visual illustration of the three elements a fire needs to ignite – heat, fuel and an oxidising agent – and then offer trainees practical experience on how to prevent or extinguish a fire.

The technology can also be used to demonstrate how to control different fuel sources, how fires can spread and the best containment methods, such as fire doors. A trainee can practise how to identify and use the correct fire extinguisher depending on the fuel source, which arguably would aid an employee in the real world should an incident occur in the workplace. This ability to test a trainee’s response in an emergency in a safe environment is invaluable.

Using simulations, trainees can be put through different scenarios and the exercises can be used to explain what the best actions are to take. For example, VR can be used to train up fire wardens, providing them with an opportunity to run through the evacuation steps they need to follow in the event of emergency (see box below).

 

Evacuation Training

The Parallel has used VR technology as part of its training for fire wardens. The session begins with the trainee fire warden being placed in a virtual office space where a virtual fire safety coach outlines the fire safety procedures in the event of an incident. The session then outlines what happens when a fire occurs and is left to spread. After this, the trainee is placed back in the office space. Using what they have learnt, their task is to evacuate colleagues following the instructions they received earlier from the virtual fire safety coach.

 

Another benefit of using VR technology is the way it can be used to demonstrate the key elements of fire safety legislation in a stimulating environment, which arguably will help enhance retention of core fire safety principles. On this note, the technology is ideal for undertaking fire risk assessments. Trainers can recreate a wide range of fire hazards, enabling trainees to practise different scenarios to better prepare themselves for potential incidents. 

The technology can be used to cover important areas such as housekeeping, fire detection and warning systems, different types of fire extinguishers, evacuation routes, fire signs and emergency lighting.

VR can also be applied in sector-specific environments. A case in point is the oil and gas sector (see box below).

 

Petrol station evacuation

In this case study, trainees took part in an evacuation exercise at a petrol station. The oil and gas company client said that the simulated environment created for the training exercise had to be a carbon copy of the real-life petrol station. When the trainees undertook the exercise, the training identified that one of the fire hazard signs had not been placed in a position that was visible enough for trainees to spot, which caused confusion and delayed the evacuation completion time. Feedback enabled the client to move the hazard sign’s position, potentially saving lives in the event of a real-life emergency situation.

 

If companies are planning to use VR technology as part of their training programmes, there are some important practical considerations to take into account.

The creation of a simulated environment through a head-mounted display will have a physiological, psychological and physical impact on the end user. It takes time to adapt to VR scenarios and if the content is not of good enough quality, then it may cause dizziness. 

To guard against this, companies need to ensure that the content development process follows the best industry practices and the graphical fidelity meets the required standard. It is also important to ensure that VR technology is integrated into existing training processes correctly and effectively; otherwise it won’t achieve the results that managers had originally intended it for.

One key advantage of using this technology is that it does allow companies to streamline their business processes and reduce training costs. 

First, VR significantly reduces the cost of training employees at a designated facility. Practical sessions can be held within the organisation’s own office. 

Second, since VR content is entirely digital, its applications can be integrated with existing management systems. This allows the trainer to record each session and review past records, which helps to identify employees who may require 

additional training.

Alternatively, they can review exercises and determine whether future training requires modification. 

Most importantly, VR provides every user with practical hands-on fire safety experience, which arguably improves knowledge retention and potentially saves lives in the event of fire. 

Photo Credit | The Parallel 

 

Alexander Padhaiski is co-founder and chief operating officer at The Parallel
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