Application of virtual reality technology to health and safety education

At present, there is a clear trend of digitization and new modern technologies in all directions, including occupational health and accident prevention. Virtual reality (VR) is a new trend here. It has long been focused not only on computer games and entertainment, but also has a strong place in education, industry and commerce. VR has a wide range of uses and its acquisition is increasing at a rapid pace. VR offers a competitive advantage in education and training of employees, thanks to it it is also possible to more effectively address statutory corporate regulations, such as health and safety, etc. VR can train employees effectively, cheaply, and without language and other barriers using this technology successfully demolished. The trend of new technologies, especially the VR, is achieving a significant effect on education and training. Changes in approach, increased interest, and use of VR in training in all areas, including health and safety and fire protection, will also bring change related to COVID-19, but also due to the fact that compared to the traditional approach to providing knowledge and experience benefits. These include, for example:

  • 3x faster learning process
  • autonomous solution that does not require training staff – saves supervision staff time
  • 30% increase in the quality of routine work
  • allows you to experience hard-to-simulate scenarios
  • facilitates training coordination and reduces training costs in the long term.

It is thanks to the advantages of this technology that academic, educational and research organizations are becoming increasingly involved in this field. The current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also contributed to this, as it is necessary to look for new and contactless ways of training and education that are at the same time effective and can bring the trained person adequate competencies and experience as if they were in a real situation.

Occupational health and safety (OSH) and fire protection (FP) training through VR is a modern approach in preventing the risk of damage to employees’ health as a result of an accident at work or an occupational disease. Virtual reality education is possible in the form of training and coaching of new and experienced employees, health and safety training or, for example, training critical situations that may occur during the work process, but their simulations in the real world are either difficult to implement or very costly. The virtual reality method is most widespread in the automotive field, where there is a high concentration of agency employees for whom training is problematic, due to the large turnover of these workers, which leads to the transformation of classic training into VR. Priorities in the field of VR in OSH currently focus primarily on risk identification, process learning of critical procedures, process learning in eliminating dangerous events, emergency management, training in operating certain types of machinery and equipment, initial training in various segments, occupational safety training when operating equipment and machines, some types of training on protection at work at heights and protection against falls, etc. At the moment, the Czech Republic lacks a modern and effective approach to this area through modern technologies, or is in its infancy and is not yet addressed systematically, although it can be of great benefit. It is therefore necessary to implement new modern approaches in the prevention of risks of injury to employees as a result of accidents at work or occupational diseases and thus put into practice a functioning system of education and awareness of OSH, which are directly related to health and financial impacts, related to accidents at work and occupational diseases. From the essence of VR training, we can assume a reduction in the number of work accidents in the range of 40 to 60 percent. We decided on the advantages of VR technology within the Occupational Safety Research Institute (OSRI) under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, to create an educational system of safety and health protection at work, while due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we focused primarily on the medical segment.

Today, due to the COVID19 pandemic, healthcare is one of the most vulnerable occupational sectors with new risks. As part of the research project, a system of education of health professionals for health and safety training through virtual reality is being created. This is the most effective and flexible way of training employees, which can currently be offered to employees and thus increase their knowledge and experience in health and safety. Specifically, it is a training software that, in the form of credibly processed situations / procedures from the environment of medical facilities, ensures the acquisition of knowledge about skills in health and safety, thanks to which health professionals increase their knowledge and skills in the field and other negative impacts related to insufficient experience and knowledge. Due to the cooperation of an expert consortium, we created the mentioned educational system and carried out extensive laboratory measurements. We also established practical measurements with medical staff in one of the key teaching hospitals in our country.

The created system is unique and at the same time it can be used across industries. It can be used both in real practice in the Czech Republic and in other countries. The aim of our research was to combine the advantages of modern VR technology and proper education in key areas of occupational safety and health. Based on the knowledge of the consortium concerned and the requirements of the staff of the teaching hospital, we created basic scenarios focused on handling sharp objects, sharp objects injuries, entering a specialized workplace (including the correct use of protective equipment) and fire protection. In scenarios related to the possibility of infection with an infectious agent, we focused on the prevention of personnel against COVID-19. We then subjected the scenarios created in this way to laboratory tests, in which we focused on the correct functionality and evaluation of the instructions performed. At the same time, the teaching hospital and its medical staff, who completed educational training with a total of 120 employees, also took part in the entire process. All the staff highly praised the training provided through VR.

Therefore, the hospital management decided to use our health and safety system in VR in real and “sharp” operation and use it to train its medical staff at regular intervals. Following the achieved results, which were above expectations, we decided to continue creating additional scenarios for the healthcare segment, so that it would be possible to subsequently use the training system across all healthcare systems in our country. And we would like to continue in other sectors as well as in other priority areas – focusing not only on accidents at work, but also on occupational diseases and their prevention. In general, it is a reduction in the number of accidents at work and occupational diseases in the Czech Republic, based on outputs, where they are primarily addressed by the possibilities of new technologies for education in the context of current problems and subsequently developed solutions that will have a significant impact on the frequency of accidents at work and occupational diseases, eg in automotive and other industrial companies, in construction, etc. For example, if we focus on ergonomics and musculoskeletal diseases (MSD), there is a big problem in the Czech Republic overload, exposure to vibration and also poor handling of loads. Therefore, it is important to pay attention to prevention and at the same time eliminate the negative consequences of MSD to a minimum through targeted training to reduce the number of movements and practice correct grip, proper load handling training, etc. prevention of possible health effects.

The most frequently reported occupational disease in the Czech Republic is carpal tunnel syndrome, which is caused by unilateral long-term and excessive overloading of the upper limbs or vibrations transmitted locally to the hands or by direct pressure on the affected structure. Here, VR can significantly reduce the frequency of this phenomenon. Exercises for the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome are known, but precision and supervision of its observance is a problem, here again virtual reality could help significantly.

In the case of work accidents, it is specifically a training in recognizing dangerous situations – it would be training in real conditions of a specific area, where employees in VR would be exposed to specific dangerous situations that arise from the area where they are employed (eg construction work at heights). In the training part, employees would be alerted to the main risks and their impacts, and in the testing part, their knowledge would be verified in real situations. Furthermore, fire protection and its training – it would again be training in real conditions of a specific area, where employees in VR would be exposed to specific situations of fire protection, which they may encounter. In the training part, employees would try out the correct procedures and in the testing part, their busy experience would be verified in real situations. In the case of occupational diseases, it is specifically an exercise for the prevention of carpal tunnel syndrome – it is a series of exercises that is implemented in a virtual reality environment that ensures their proper compliance in terms of technology and frequency of repetition. And also exercises to prevent problems associated with the cervical spine – this is again a series of exercises that eliminate the typical difficulties arising from the cervical spine, such as decreased mobility, pain in the cervical spine, chronic headaches, etc.

Virtual reality, here again ensures the correct technique of exercises and adherence to frequency. The relevant indicators to be taken into account in this regard are:

  • accident rate,
  • frequency of accidents at work,
  • including length of incapacity,
  • and sector-specific reach.

The prioritization is based on available statistical data (data for the first half of 202 are now available) as follows:
Selection of methodology for job categorization → CZ NACE → Creation of job category → assignment of specific CZ NACE.

Manufacturing and processing companies, THP workers, Retail, Healthcare, Construction – these categories with assigned CZ NACE cover 83.9% of working people in the Czech Republic.

The data are in the format: sector – number of employees in the sector – number of accidents at work – average length of incapacity in days

• Manufacturing and processing companies – 1.54 mil. – 9193 – 77.75
• Administration and public administration – 1.09 mil. – 2147 – 64.75
• Retail wholesale – 0.91mil. – 4539 – 67
• Healthcare – 0.41mil. – 1252 – 66
• Construction – 0.4mil. – 1355 – 74

As the above statistics show, it is clear that there is a need to reduce accidents at work and occupational diseases, as they affect the majority of the working population, which in turn has negative economic consequences for both employees / individuals and employers / enterprises, public administration, etc. The main goals of OSRI´s projects in this direction are to focus on the prevention and minimization of the impact of occupational accidents and diseases through the use of modern technologies including OSH training and in VR and subsequently also exercises.

As already shown today in the pilot project and due to the multidisciplinary combination of OSRI´s knowledge under the auspices of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and practical experience from the professional public, the most modern proven trends lead to effective education. In addition, from experience abroad today, entire simulation centers are becoming quite common and standard.

Based on a successful project of implementing VR in healthcare in the Czech Republic, we demonstrate the real benefits of this technology. At the same time, the fact that these trainings can be combined with other modern methods in the area of ​​prevention of occupational accidents or diseases and overall minimization of occupational risks is also crucial.

Currently, scenarios for occupational health and safety training are being created, OSRI has created within the Institutional Support of the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and in cooperation with XR Instute s.r.o. training scenarios for health care – health and safety in the VR within the solution of the research project “Effective and flexible education of health care workers in the field of health and safety through state-of-the-art technologies, which is focused on health and safety training in the health segment in virtual reality”.