I. Introduction

In virtual reality, employees experience the inherent dangers of their working environment and how to react to them. They see, firsthand, the potential consequences of poor planning, failing to follow proper procedures, or rushing a process. Trainees are taken through their workplace hazards where they see holes in the flooring and shaky ladders, and hear the construction sounds of the safety floor in three-dimensional sound. A simple fire drill takes on a new, added sense of importance as employees evacuate the virtual plant in a variety of situations. Additionally, trainees can even experience such sensations as falling, injury by machine, chemical exposure, and even death. The shock value in such a safety program will make the lesson a memorable one.

Virtual reality truly engages trainees. As we all know, employees learn more when are engaged in learning. They are no longer looking at a computer screen or sitting through a lecture on safety; they are in a three-dimensional world and interacting using intuition, vision, and gesture. They are immersed in a world they control: passive behavior becomes impossible as the trainee takes control of the situation.

Most companies still rely on the difficult to read Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) to comply with federally required safety training. The complicated writing style, confusing organization, tiny print, and few illustrations often leave workers confused and bored. Virtual reality allows trainees hands on experience in a safe and controlled environment. Employees are able to explore the outcomes of their decisions without risk to themselves or equipment. They are able to visualize what can t be visualized: degrees of risk, temperature, chemical exposure levels- and see their effects.

Virtual reality-based safety training can be based on both internal company safety programs and OSHA guidelines. Employees learn and experience safety lessons directly based on their own working environment, greatly adding to retention and the relevance of such training.

Maximizing Human Potential

It is a clich, but at the heart of a safety operation lies not technology, strategic planning, or even products- but employees. The performance of employees will determine, in large measure the performance of the safety system. 21st Century technologies are applied throughout the planning and design process to cut retooling time, simulate equipment, and improve logistics. However, the lives of the actual people who operate this sophisticated equipment learn safety with methodologies more equipped for the 19th Century. Safety managers today are finding that existing, proven methods of training have reached their limits against today s vast scale of change. Tasks demanded by the new environment cannot be done with the tools of the old.

Virtual reality-based safety training captures the imagination. The choice of training techniques will have a large effect on how much employees learn. If you present them with run of the mill training techniques, they will reward you with run of the mill efforts.

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