In order to tackle the modern EHS challenges, we often need intuitive and feedback based systems that can help to simplify learning and understanding. This simplification then carries on to reinforce better response and safety behaviour, like we learnt in the case of mobile apps.
However, the concrete EHS challenges to life and livelihoods especially in hazardous sectors i.e. oil and gas, chemicals and construction demands elevated role of safety and security. The risk present to the frontline workers can sometimes outstrip the behavioural classroom trainings – flexibility from a ‘situational safety standpoint’ is undermined.
Technology developments that have been used to train pilots and which now have even entered our daily lives is offering the essential risk barrier that can offset such EHS challenges – Virtual Reality or VR.
Pilots undergo simulator trainings which mimic flight panel visualization, control and cockpit look and feel. They are then trained over a period of time on a range of safety and security related issues or challenges. This accurately measures their response times and effective conditioned behaviour to such challenges with near lifelike conditions and yet with zero risk to actual flight safety.
VR technologies are built upon projecting and simulating lifelike conditions around a user with the help of audio-visual and 3D maps. These are enabled by VR headsets that engage the user mind via audio, visual and haptic feedback system to replicate real life conditions and situations.
Some of the direct applications that VR technology is currently being tested under are:
- Medical technology training
- Gaming and allied learning
- Military and defence operations
The promise of the “lifelike replication” and feedback based system is where VR becomes of great interest for the EHS domain.
Trainings is set to gain the most from VR technologies in the EHS domain
- Safety trainings
- Hazardous work
- Live worksite induction tour
- Complex machine operations
Operational risk and integrated risk management focus on accuracy of ensuring task execution, for example, a complex hazardous permit to work procedure would require multiple criteria that escalate and move forward within a digital workflow.
But this said PTW task requires several operational risk parameters to be ensured, on-field. VR trainings can simplify this procedure by introducing the concept of ‘walkthrough’. The work crew can be taught how to execute and deliver the task prior to handling or facing any categorical risks.
Walkthrough’s can be made into VR for developing understanding of new sites or extensions at already installed facilities – management can experience the outcomes even before they have seen them in reality.
The complexity of VR currently runs into one major drawback. Human biology engages gag reflexes – meaning an intense feeling to vomit – if the subject is exposed for too long to VR. This is unique to the inherent mechanism of ‘seeing with open eyes’ and then identifying reality rather than headsets. As soon as prolonged periods of headset and VR based reality become too much for the mind, it tries to break the human body out of it with thousands of year old defence mechanism – gagging and vomiting.
However, this challenge has already been tackled by defence forces via conditioning. Mental and physical conditioning to VR headsets and environment has made it possible for humans to learn more from this technology.
But the next level of learning outcomes via VR will be made possible in asset performance management. The software driven and PLC controlled interfaces that setup modern manufacturing and production plants are too complex even with their detailed blueprints.
Their operational maintenance and monitoring (having a backup for a backup) would rely on VR based training and learning environments. The complexity can be replicated with remarkable accuracy and situational learnings, objectives and task based exercises are made possible without shutting the operations. The work person learns these day after day and can then efficiently demonstrate them under supervision.
A win-win scenario for organizations who can raise a superior trained workforce within a desirable time window. The measured learnings also demonstrate longer retention and recall in case of VR. The correct point of deployment and a well understood requirement analysis would be needed to make VR into the new safety reality at a workplace near you.
Image courtesy: European Space Agency in Darmstadt, Germany