Virtual and Augmented Reality are Disrupting Safety Training, But the EH&S Applications Don’t Stop There

Virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) are two adjacent technologies that are beginning to find their way into mainstream life. Once reserved for sci-fi movies, this technology can now be found in the helmets of fighter pilots, the goggles of snowboarders, or any cellphone with Pokémon Go. For worker safety, VR and AR are both gaining traction as potentially game-changing technologies. 

Scenario-based safety training is the current flagship for the use of VR in the corporate EH&S world. Instead of using classroom training, pictures and video to educate workers about a hazardous environment, VR allows full immersion into the environment without having to leave the room. Being able to have ‘real’ experience before truly exposing oneself to the hazard is invaluable, and could drastically cut down on unsafe behaviors, incidents, and fatalities. To attest to this assertion, the US-based National Training Laboratory rates ‘practice by doing’ as the second most effective way to retain information at a rate of 75%, just behind ‘teaching others’ at 90%. Firms such as Convergence Training, Echelon VR, RealSpace, Streamline Simulations, and XVR have all decided to jump on this trend by offering safety training for the likes of emergency and crisis management, construction site safety, mining, general hazard identification, and vehicle operation. These firms offer the training by utilizing VR systems such as the Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard in conjunction with their own 3D mapping and overlay technology.

Augmented reality on the other hand is a frontier far less explored for safety managers. In theory, augmented reality could allow an employee wearing ‘smart safety glasses’ to view real-time environmental information such as airborne chemical and particulate concentrations or oxygen levels in a confined space. Considering smart glasses haven’t hit their stride in their own right, a more likely usage scenario might be scanning a chemical storage area with a smart phone’s camera and having the screen populate with virtual SDSs above each substance for seamless information acquisition. Los Angeles-based DAQRI is one of the first on the scene in this segment with the production of their ‘Smart Helmet’; the product is essentially an advanced hard hat which includes a retractable visor capable of overlaying work instructions, system performance metrics, and temperature readings onto the users field of view. Hyperloop, KSP Steel, and Vinci Energies are all clients.

The pace of VR system development could very well mean most workplace offer some type of virtual safety training within the next two years. For AR, although it can be applied via phone, further innovation is needed before it can be leveraged to the point of making sense in an everyday industrial setting. With that in mind, these represent just two examples of the technology renaissance in which EH&S management finds itself. Wearables, drones, safety beacons, RFID tags, and Internet of Things (IoT) are increasingly being exploited for EH&S management-related improvements. To learn more about these technologies, the real world usage examples, and the Verdantix take on their adoption probabilities, download the upcoming Verdantix report titled “EH&S Top 10 most exciting technologies to watch in 2017”, due out by October 2016.