Roundtree Learning
Experiencing Accidents That Never Happen

Experiencing Accidents That Never Happen

May 23, 2024
AR/VR technologies can create training simulations that can prevent injuries.

It’s a familiar quandary, how do you train a new employee on dangerous equipment without incuring injury?

The answer lies in using technology called extended reality (XR), which includes the more commonly known augmented and virtual reality technologies.

Using these technologies, it is possible to create an interactive method to walk through the exact steps on how to operate equipment. Not only does the technology enable the user to perform the tasks necessary for the job, but it can notice incorrect behavior and alert the user. 

To better understand the technology, I visited the headquarters of Roundtable Learning, located in Hudson, Ohio, which serves customers such as Walmart, Amazon, Lincoln Electric, Georgia Pacific, Kellogg’s, Schneider, and Goodyear.

With the lightweight headset on, I saw my “hands” picking up a box and placing it on a pallet. It guided me on how to properly place the box in order to avoid injury. 

“We have worked with a number of companies helping them design proper ergonomics for their warehouse workers," explains, Nick Day, vice president of sales and marketing “These jobs involve a lot of twisting and turning which can lead to shoulder, lower back and other musculoskeletal injuries.” 

These types of injuries account for 27% of all workplace injuries according to the National Safety Council. From 2021 to 2022, the private sector experienced 976.090, musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) DART cases, including 502,380 DAFW cases. 

Putting a price tag on this number, a 2023 survey from Liberty Mutual, Workplace Safety Index,  found that overexertion, such as lifting heavy loads, cost employers $12.84 billion a year in medical costs and lost wages. Injuries from employees using awkward positions cost $3.67 billion. 

And injuries from new employees are different today than in the past. “One of the issues we have noticed in working with a variety of manufacturing companies, is that many employees are entering jobs with no previous manufacturing experience, having worked in service industry jobs,” says Day. “Therefore, basic industry training becomes necessary to avoid injuries that more experienced workers might not have.”

Preventing injuries is one of the reasons that Superior Beverage Group asked Roundtable Learning to help create a program to train workers on a new complicated piece of machinery. 

Running this new system required warehouse associates to work in four different stations, so the company had to hire more associates. The in-person training that was necessary was complex and time-consuming and restricted worker mobility. This restriction became an issue when an employee was absent and others were not trained in operating that aspect of the machinery. 

The goal of using AR/VR technology was to teach the basic functions and safety in operating this new machinery system. After training, employees said they felt better prepared to perform tasks in different areas of the system. The result of the training was a 50% reduction in workers’ compensation claims. 

Variety of Applications

In addition to ergonomics and machine training, these technologies can be used in other safety applications including:

Driving Simulator- This type of training can cover pre-trip safety inspections in addition to safety on the road.  

PPE – Employees can learn how to properly use equipment within company protocols.

Confined Space – Visually experiencing confined spaces in a controlled environment allows an employee to practice safety procedures.

High-Altitude – By experiencing different scenarios employees can build the skill to be safe.

Identifying Hazards- From electrical dangers to chemical spills, employees can learn how to spot potential hazards and how to react in those situations.

 

Active Shooter Training

One risk that can occur anywhere is that of an active shooter. While many companies are increasing training in this area, the ability to experience this type of situation with the goal of knowing how to act can quite literally save a life. 

After having conducted training for a Fortune 500 retailer which involved a robbery at the work site, not a week went by before the manager experienced that event in real-life. Having gone through the training, using virtually reality which allowed him to experience the exact steps he would need to take, he was able to avert injury. 

Discussing how close to reality these training is, Day shared the story that during a demonstration of the VR program, an employee hit the ground when the program simulated gunfire. “The simulations are so close to reality now and much improved from the more cartoon-like images that were used in the early stages of this technology.”

Creating a Program

While the graphics have improved, so has the process for creating a successful program. “It takes an entire team including design and instructional experts to create a program that fits the needs of the comnpany,” explains Jason Shea, Unity XR Developer.

“Our process is to do a deep dive into the specific needs and goals of the technology. Not every issue can be addressed through this technology, so there needs to be a clear understanding of the problem,” Shea added. "When designing a safety program, it’s essential that EHS professionals are involved at the earliest stages." 

A stumbling block to any new technology is the issue of cost. Over the years both the cost of the hardware and software has decreased, while the quality of both has increased. 

Another issue can be in terms of how to scale the technology, and for that Shea recommends bringing IT teams in early to determine how the technology can meet the location needs of the workforce. 

Once designed properly the results of this training have been positive. In a pilot study for a training program for one of its Fortune 500 clients, the feedback from participants showed that 65%said that VR is very effective as a learning experience involving safety compared to other methods of learning. 

Additionally, 49% of participants reported that the VR course increased their understanding of one or more safety skills and 100% of participants reported that the VR course validated or increased their understanding of safety topics covered in the course.

These metrics reflect generally industry ones, as reported by PwC, which concluded that those using XR training are up to 275% more confident to act on what they learned after the training.  And they were 16 times more likely to recall information using this method than traditional learning methods. 

These improvements explain why, according to the survey, 82% of company executives say immersive technologies will be part of their business model in the next three years, with 42% planning to provide onboarding and training with these technologies.

 As companies look to make these investments, Day offers the following advice. “The first step is to make sure that your company has done a thorough analysis of what your injury risks are and how you are quantifying those, so programs can be designed to address very specific concerns and allow for a way to measure results. The end result that everyone strives for, and which this technology can enable, is a safer work environment.” 

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