Immersive safety: the benefits of VR training in materials handling
By Michael O’Reilly, Chief Executive Officer, Next World Enterprises
Monday, 01 March, 2021
To reduce workplace accidents, and ultimately save lives, businesses are adopting virtual reality (VR) training — a learning solution that is significantly cheaper and more effective in ensuring employee engagement. VR training takes employees through real-life experience-based simulations and is proven to be far more effective and affordable than traditional training methods, especially when performing high-risk tasks, such as those that are routine in materials handling.
On average, more than 500,000 Australians experience work-related injury or illness each year. In 2019 alone, 183 Australians lost their lives due to occupational fatalities. As reported by Safe Work Australia (SWA), there is a strong correlation between workplace incidents and training. This is due to lack of training, inadequate training, poor quality training or competency-related causal factors (major unplanned/unintended contributors). Up to 60% of workplace incidents have one or more causal factors involved relating to training. This statistic demonstrates that training is one of the leading factors in workplace incidents.
VR training vs traditional methods
Training methods commonly employed in the materials handling industry, like class-based learning and e-learning, are failing to adequately prepare workers for hazardous situations. Conventional modes of learning fail to align with how humans innately learn, as they do not interest or engage the participant. With e-learning, for instance, learners struggle to pay attention to the generally uninspiring content delivered, and with massive open online course completion rates of just 10%, many employers are realising that this is resulting in compliance gaps. Furthermore, as little as 10% of knowledge retention is typically maintained two weeks following traditional training. Meanwhile, the application of VR learning is proven to deliver up to 8x better knowledge retention. VR training is delivered in a manner that the brain absorbs effortlessly and is engaging and immersive when compared to traditional methods. Not to mention, learners are more attracted to VR learning because they are less distracted, more emotionally connected and get more out of the experience by ‘living it’. Until now, the workforce has not had something as engaging and immersive to allow for optimised results.
When businesses implement VR learning, they can also capture important data that can help a company further eliminate risk. When workers undergo training in an e-learning or face-to-face environment, generally all that can be garnered is an assessment score — pass or fail. However, some VR technology suppliers provide data such as:
- where the worker looked;
- how long they looked at an object for;
- whether or not the hazard was that object;
- if they looked at the hazard but didn’t select it on one or more occasions;
- if they lacked situational awareness or had it, for example seeing or missing items in or around their view;
- whether their risk awareness levels were aligned with preset awareness levels and peer perception rankings;
- assessment scores; and
- speed of completion.
VR benefits to materials handling
Materials handling and manual handling contribute significantly to workers compensation premium costs. As stated by SWA, 32% of workers compensation claims relate to muscular stress as a result of lifting objects manually and 15% of serious claims relate to musculoskeletal disorders. Inadequate training plays a major role into these statistics, and VR learning has the potential to reduce workplace incidents. VR can also take training to the next level and significantly decrease risk within an organisation. Through VR learning experiences, businesses can learn how employees operate, on an individual level, and gain insight into an employee’s ability to operate safely while performing manual handling or operating lifting aids. With eye tracking technology available in select VR training products, employers can determine how situationally aware an employee is and how good they are at spotting hazards. Hazard awareness and risk tolerance are strongly linked to incident rates, and VR training technology identifies where that misalignment is and helps organisations to intervene proactively.
Another benefit of VR training in relation to materials handling comes for companies based in rural or remote communities. VR training can keep regional workforces up to scratch with their training no matter how far workers venture. This is because VR headsets can be preloaded with learning content and used on demand, whenever and wherever needed. Affordability is a massive issue for generic learning tools or educators (especially in remote communities, where educators need to be flown in and hosted); timely delivery for regional and remote workers is also an issue. The beauty of VR learning experiences is that companies do not need to wait for a trainer or a registered training organisation. Rather, VR headsets can be picked up by an employee, donned and away they go. VR training provides extensive data and significantly supports the reduction of risk in the workplace. More critically, this data is proactive and predictive rather than reactive. Therefore, VR-driven data can then be overlaid with other workplace data to create a risk heat map that can then be used by an organisation to create and implement stronger safety interventions. VR is creating a culture of effective, affordable and efficient learning and safety within businesses, which is essential when it comes to protecting Australians in the workforce.
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