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SLC 2020 Q&A: Using Virtual Reality to Build Hazard Awareness

Oct. 19, 2020
How one construction company is using virtual training to create a safer reality.

You can think of it like one of those spot-the-difference exercises found in magazines. Or a virtual tour. Except it’s an exercise in identifying hazards and mitigating workplace safety risks.

Josh Schmitz, safety manager of CG Schmidt Inc., shares how the Wisconsin-based construction company uses a simulator to teach employees how to make a safer workplace. Through virtual reality (VR), he knows what safety hazards employees miss, which can guide future training. And because it’s virtual, he and his development team can keep revising and build new simulations to help keep employees safe in any environment.

His session at the 2020 Safety Leadership Conference, which takes place Nov. 10-12 virtually, will include a demonstration of the virtual platform.

Schmitz previews his session, “Using Virtual Reality to Build Hazard Awareness” in a Q&A with EHS Today.  

EHS Today: Can you offer us a short description of your presentation and describe how it relates to safety leadership?

Schmitz: As safety professionals, part of our job is to grow the knowledge base and awareness of those we work with. Training never stops. Being able to walk through a building before a shovel even goes into the ground can not only show the team what they are going to be building, it can also identify hazards before they are true hazards.

The team can then identify ways to eliminate the hazard or put controls in place to keep people safe. It is not me making those decisions; it is the team knowing what needs to be done and taking ownership to ensure a successful project.

Why is the topic of your presentation of interest to you and why is it important to SLC attendees?

There is no one-size-fits-all in construction. We perform a large variety of projects and have a diverse group building and planning. We found that some people have gone years or maybe a career without seeing some of the hazards we presented to them. This presentation shows an effective way to build upon the knowledge base and prevent accidents before they happen.

What are the takeaways you hope to leave with attendees?

I am hoping to show people another way to educate and build hazard awareness. This reminds me of playing Nintendo games as a kid — moving around and searching for clues to complete the objectives. I would engage my senses: touch, sight and sound. It is more immersive than just looking at a picture or listening to someone talk. Setting up VR simulations is also easier than I expected.

Please share an example of a personal or professional experience you’ve had related to safety leadership or the topic of your presentation.

We sent out a VR walk-through of a project to our project management staff and asked [them] to list all of the hazards that they found. It was very interesting to see how nearly everyone had different answers. During subsequent discussions, we discovered experience — both years in the field and types of projects worked in — played a large factor in which hazards were identified and which were missed.

For example, we have some that have only worked in hospitals performing remodel work. They missed a lot of the rooftop fall protection hazards because they are not used to working on roofs. VR can help show knowledge gaps and identify areas of focus for training.

What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on safety leadership at your organization?

The construction industry is pretty good at adapting to ever-changing situations and conditions.  Because of this, COVID-19 hasn’t hit us very hard. Our leadership team is our COVID-19 Response Team and continues to meet twice a week. 

Early on, it was difficult to find accurate information. Our leadership team maximized our resources to put a plan in place in accordance with the CDC, OSHA and health departments. It has not been easy but working as a team we have been able to keep people healthy on our jobsites. 

Please provide any additional insight or comments about your topic of discussion.

This is my first time presenting at a national conference, and I would like to encourage others to submit for presentations. There is a lot of great stuff happening in the world of EHS. Everyone has a valuable perspective to share.

Editor’s Note: For more information on the 2020 Safety Leadership Conference, including registration, click here.

About the Author

Nicole Stempak

Nicole Stempak is managing editor of EHS Today and conference content manager of the Safety Leadership Conference.

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