Finding ways to safely train new employees and refresh current employees’ skills can be complicated. Inefficient or ineffective training can keep talented, tenured employees from their jobs, misusing company time. Also, traditional training methods are unable to recreate dangerous or unexpected scenarios that employees may encounter such as an active ammonia leak. In addition, passive training methods may result in employees finding it difficult to recall proper steps and procedures.
Utilizing immersive virtual experiences can help employees be prepared for all scenarios. Virtual reality (VR) training experiences provide a safe training alternative that looks and feels real. Fully immersive experiences allow trainees to work through real-world scenarios, including hazardous situations, in a safe training environment. Using virtual reality training, experiences have a much higher sensory impact, which stimulates memory. This can result in improved learning retention and ultimately, a reduction in errors and accidents on the job.
Uses of VR Technology for Safety Training
Virtual reality technology serves many purposes in employee safety training. Typical uses include new hire onboarding and training as well as continuing education and training for current employees. Safety training with VR has many uses, from helping employees identify hazards to learning new or proper operating procedures.
Teaching Safety Procedures. Virtual reality training can help prepare employees for dangerous or rare situations while keeping them safe. The technology virtually immerses employees inside the plant, warehouse or job site. Employees learn the proper procedures for rare and unexpected situations without risking physical injury or damage to equipment.
When onboarding new employees, it is critical that they are aware of all safety protocols. Modern cooling systems are complex and require regular maintenance. For instance, cooling towers are subject to debris, and employees must be prepared to clean up debris to keep the equipment running. Virtual reality training can provide employees with an immersive environment in a photo-realistic cooling tower, allowing them to run through maintenance tasks as often as needed.
Practicing Hazard Identification. Refrigerant systems have the potential to leak. In crowded equipment rooms, high levels of refrigerant gas in the air can displace oxygen and cause oxygen deficiency in workers. The health risk of gas leaks and the expense of cleanup make it impossible to fully simulate these scenarios using most training methods.
Training employees to identify and address potential hazards such as leaks and corrosion helps keep all employees safe and healthy. Virtual reality training helps employees identify issues and practice the safest methods to avoid environmental hazards. Employees can run through fixing leaks without being in danger of oxygen deficiency. Being able to identify hazards and knowing how to handle such situations are critical skills to ensure safety and proper equipment operation. Using a virtual world can give employees the experience and confidence to solve any potential problems before they arise.
Learning Standard Operating Procedures. Every plant has defined and documented standard operating procedures to ensure all work is done correctly to maintain plant operations. Every employee must learn the proper techniques and adhere to rules to avoid harm to themselves, other personnel and the equipment. Equipment damage can be dangerous and costly to repair, so limiting the use of physical equipment during training can avoid risk and expense.
Virtual reality courses can train employees on how to use plant equipment without risking harm to equipment or other employees. Photo-realistic models can be created to train new hires on how to use the equipment. In facilities with flammable refrigerants, new employees can practice selecting and using the proper fire-extinguishing equipment before working in the plant. Virtual reality technology also can be used to retrain any employees that are not adhering to or have forgotten SOPs.
Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) Training. In a process cooling environment, there are many HSE considerations, from the challenge of working in confined spaces, to the risk of electrical shock and toxic chemical spills. Employees can use VR training solutions to complete HSE training. For example, trainers and trainees may not be able to train directly in enclosed spaces or want to risk shock when practicing electrical safety. Common courses, like OHSA courses, are adaptable to VR as well.
Ammonia is the most common refrigerant in the world, and ammonia leakage can cause burning of the eyes, nose and throat and can result in blindness, lung damage or death. Virtual reality training content can be built to mimic the plant environment, and employees can practice procedures to keep themselves safe, knowing what to do in the event of an unexpected leak. A leak could take years to encounter on the job, but virtual reality training can prepare employees by giving them unlimited opportunities to practice proper mitigation procedures without endangering their health.
Benefits of VR Technology for Safety Training
There are numerous benefits of using virtual reality technology for employee training. Companies using VR training methods may experience several benefits.
Higher Retention Rates. Virtual reality technology fully engages the senses, which prevents employees from being distracted by outside influences. Because employees are fully immersed in their training, they have higher retention of the material. According to a 2020 study on virtual reality training conducted by PwC, VR training results in an information retention rate of up to 80 percent, one year after training, compared to 20 percent just one week after traditional training.
Higher retention rates also lead to employees being more confident in using their acquired skills. PwC found that virtual reality learners were 275 percent more confident to apply skills they learned in VR training than those in traditional training. Virtual reality training benefits both the organization and the employee because both parties can be more confident in employees being prepared for any potential risks or hazards.
High ROI from Reduced Travel Time, Equipment Downtime and Personnel Downtime. Virtual reality technology allows trainees to practice different activities as often as needed and experience real-life work scenarios that would otherwise take years to encounter in a matter of hours. A 2020 PwC study shows employees completed virtual reality programs up to four times faster than in-person training, and one-and-a-half times faster than e-learning. Virtual reality training content has unlimited use, which greatly extends the potential for training and knowledge acquisition while reducing the time and cost of off-site training.
Costs of traveling for training instructors can be reduced with the use of virtual reality training. Instructors no longer need to travel to prepare trainees for the workplace. In addition, it reduces labor time for instructors setting up training and taking down equipment, taking production equipment or facilities offline for training and using costly materials for cleanup and maintenance of training environments. Time in the classroom is also reduced because trainees perform most training in virtual reality environments solo, and it can be completed and performed remotely.
Employees Stay in the Field. Experienced, senior employees no longer must be taken out of the field to train employees. Lead employees can help create accurate scenarios in virtual environments capturing elements of their “tribal knowledge” to pass along to trainees. Smaller numbers of experienced employees can supervise a large group of trainees learning with virtual reality. Employees train at their own pace and can repeat training frequently, all while the experienced and proficient employees stay out in the field.
Virtual reality training solutions allow efficient knowledge transfer from an experienced staff member who may be retiring to other employees. It also allows users to learn in days what other employees may have taken years to experience in the field.
In conclusion, virtual reality technology improves safety training because employees can experience the exact event they would encounter in the workplace without being put in harm’s way. Properly training employees for rare, dangerous and unexpected incidents can ensure their safety in the workplace. Immersive, realistic virtual scenarios provide an environment for employees to safely practice skills and gauge emotional reactions without any real risk.