Opinion

Virtual reality is becoming an important tool for many businesses

Nic Warburton is acting editor, IOSH Magazine
Acting editor, IOSH Magazine

In recent years there has been a significant uptake in the use of simulation technology such as virtual reality (VR) for OSH training.

As Lewis Young, animation and VR director at Polar Media, explained in our feature “Alternative realities” (IOSH Magazine, January 2019): “VR gives people the freedom to make the right or wrong choices, and to fail safely.”

Simulation exercises work particularly well when businesses can recreate real-life scenarios in a virtual world which otherwise would be impractical or costly to present in a physical environment. A classic example is an offshore oil rig, which would be both expensive and difficult to reach for a training exercise. Another popular focus area is fire safety training in which firefighters can put into practice straight away the skills they have learned, albeit in a safe and immersive environment.

Indeed, one of the important takeaways from the use of simulation exercises is how they can help enhance workers’ hazard perception. 

In our work at height round table last month, industry experts looked at how VR use for managing work in confined spaces and at height can positively influence operatives’ behaviour. By challenging operatives to identify safety issues in an immersive environment, trainers can open up a broader discussion about what responses are warranted. 

In this month’s lead feature, we hear about the launch of Royal Mail’s new VR training app and interactive experience, which coincides with Dog Awareness Week (starting on 8 July), to raise further awareness of the hazards posed by “man’s best friend” out on the rounds. 

Although the application of the VR technology enhances learner engagement and information retention, businesses still need to consider carefully the training’s design and learning outcomes

 

Every year, there are around 3,500 dog attacks on frontline postal workers in the UK. The injuries can leave permanent scars, but even in less serious cases the experience can be traumatic for staff who can suddenly and unexpectedly come face to face with an aggressive pet barking and bearing its teeth. 

Although Royal Mail has recorded a significant decline in attacks over the past five or so years thanks to its longstanding dog awareness campaign, changes in the group’s function – parcel deliveries have risen as letter volumes have fallen – have increased the risk of contact with these sometimes-unpredictable animals.

As its digital learning manager, James Barton, notes, postal delivery workers can also inadvertently compromise their own personal safety through “a compulsion to deliver the mail at all costs”. 

The case study identifies the benefits from the training but also issues a reality check. 

Although the application of the VR technology enhances learner engagement and information retention, businesses still need to consider carefully the training’s design and learning outcomes. 

Ending on a positive note, what is also clear is that VR is becoming an increasingly important tool for many businesses, helping employers to ensure employee safety even in moderate risk occupations. 

 

 Nick Warburton is acting editor of IOSH Magazine. He is a former editor of SHP and has also worked on Local Authority Waste and Recycling and Environmental Health Practitioner

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