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Let People Die...


Let People Die in Virtual Reality, NOT in the Real World

Joanna, a warehouse employee, is making her way across the floor to fill an order. As she rounds the last row of shelves, she is unknowingly approaching a forklift with a suspended load that is not safely marked off.

Without looking up from her clipboard, Joanna continues to walk under the load while the forklift operator simultaneously throws it in reverse. The improperly secured load shifts with this sudden movement, tips, and the timing for Joanna couldn’t be worse.

She is severely injured after sustaining the full force of the load. Luckily Joanna survived the impact and was immediately rushed to the hospital with extensive injuries.

Multiple surgeries and months later, Joanna is still feeling the effects of this incident and her life will never be the same. Tragic but preventable instances like these occur all too often, but they shouldn’t have to.

A shocking 695 workplace deaths occurred in 2017 that resulted from contact with objects or equipment according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 531 deaths resulted from exposure to harmful substances or environments. That translates to over 3 workplace deaths each day.

These staggering figures reinforce the fact that no matter how far we’ve come, there is still work to be done to ensure your employees are kept safe. As all HSE professionals should, we believe even one workplace injury is too many…but it got us thinking.

“If a good HSE professional helps keep their workers safe, does an even better one actually subject them to these dangers?”

Here at Abstract, our approach to safety is a little different. As Abstract’s CEO and Co-Founder Brian Bogus states, “Let your employees get injured or hurt - so long as it’s in a simulation. If they fail, let them fail when all it impacts is their score.”

By putting your employees through training simulations that test your employee’s safety competence, they can experience what it’s like to be Joanna walking the warehouse floor. With VR, employees can visualize not only the proper safety techniques that should be implemented, but there’s more latitude to tell an emotionally compelling story of the results of such an accident.

The employee should feel the consequence of their action to get an emotional connection to these real world scenarios. There’s power in VR, and sometimes the best way to learn is to take a walk in another person’s shoes.

“Let your employees get injured or hurt - so long as it’s in a simulation. If they fail, let them fail when all it impacts is their score.”


A Growing Trend in Training

Where Should Companies that are “New” to VR Start?

Fortune 500 companies like 3M, ExxonMobil, and UPS have already experienced the benefits of game-based safety training, most notably through the use of Virtual Reality (VR). For any enterprise that is new to the world of VR training for their employees, the first step into this immersive world must be strategically planned.

Many companies reach out to us to create a VR experience with the goal of replicating a specific process or scenario they can use to train certain personnel. Of course, these niche trainings have tremendous value as they are usually very important processes that need to be performed to a T, but is it the best place to start? Because the training is so specialized, how many employees across your company can actually take advantage of this immersive training?

It has been studied that approximately 70% of your employee’s on-the-job knowledge comes from experiential learning. The act of “doing” leads to increased knowledge retention as opposed to traditional training styles like formal courses and classes.


As an inherently immersive and experiential platform, Virtual Reality is one of the best training vehicles to tell the story of the potentially catastrophic results of ignored protocols. When the outcome feels real, it is much more likely to leave a lasting impression.  

According to Forbes, the CEO of Miami’s Children Health System, Dr. Narendra Kini had this to say about the knowledge retention of VR Training simulations used in their hospitals.

“The retention level a year after a VR training session can be as much as 80%, compared to 20% retention after a week with traditional training. Kini says people are actually creating memories, so it’s like they’ve done the procedure before.”

These types of responses help prove the validity of the initiative internally, however, determining what to create in VR and how to scale it for use across your company is the most crucial component. To tackle this question, we spoke to Brian Bogus, CEO of Abstract, to learn where a company should be starting when considering a move into VR.

“To maximize a company’s investment in VR while touching the largest number of employees, focus on behavioral or cultural training first. It is tempting to jump straight into specific procedure-based trainings, however the investment in these highly targeted trainings should often be secondary. Consider focusing on (Q)HSE and the major safety initiatives your company is constantly rolling out to keep your employees safe.”


Save Lives First

HSE initiatives involve important day-to-day safety protocols. These include Life Saving Rules, Stop Work Authority, Hazard Identification, etc. and most, if not all, apply to every location. These initiatives are in place to prevent injury or death every single day. By creating a VR experience around these initiatives, you will prime your workers to better learn and retain safety information across all levels of an organization.

The problem with training courses for HSE today is that they are heavily protocol-based, and quite honestly, boring. It’s like being forced to take a defense driving course. You tune in only close enough to get past the exam, and you’re back to your old ways the next day.

Be honest with yourself, because if your training is lackluster, it only hurts the employees you’re trying to protect. The training experience should drive home the importance of the initiatives in an engaging way and should similarly highlight what the results could be if they’re not followed.

For this reason, experiential training promotes cause and effect to the fullest. For example, say you’re walking around a virtual environment identifying hazards and neglect a tool on the ground (trip hazard). If it’s missed, a computer-generated employee enters the scene, trips and break their neck. Is it harsh? Yes, but it drives the importance of being aware of your surroundings, identifying hazards and taking action. People learn more from their failures than their successes so let them fail when it matters the least.


Start Small, Assess, Change

Another benefit to focusing VR training around behavioral safety is the ability to scale. Since employees of all divisions must be aware of safety procedures and protocol, it creates the most bang for your buck. What better way to ensure the entire company doesn’t just have the protocol memorized, but can actually utilize it effectively?

While scaling the software is relatively easy across an organization, it does bring up the question of hardware. Since hardware costs range from $200-$500 per device, plus the cost of the computer to run it (if necessary) there is certainly a budgetary consideration to be made. However, if buy-in for a global-scale release isn’t feasible, consider starting small. One solution could be to roll it out in one region with VR and allow others to experience it as a standard PC based gaming simulation.

When speaking to new clients with big ideas, we always recommend starting with a Proof of Concept (POC). Sometimes it’s most beneficial to create a POC for each different initiative. As the industry experts, you may have an idea on how you would like to push a VR training module on the topic of hazard identification. However, until the headset is on and you’re experiencing it firsthand, it can be hard to see where training value can be maximized to the user. For this reason, it’s best to create a simple experience, learn from it, and iterate to a better result. By starting small, this allows you to avoid technical debt and grow the simulation the correct way.

You can also beta test the simulation with a test group of employees to determine how well they do. Is it too easy or too hard? How do you challenge employees of different experience levels? These are questions to consider as you create, assess, and grow.

The most important thing to consider when confronting these questions is to not forget that we are creating a video game (Industrial companies cringe when they hear “video game” but it is what it is…call it a gaming simulation if it makes you feel better :) ). Don’t let this fool you, this is absolutely advantageous! The benefit is that it solves the question of “too hard” or “too easy” by having the ability to introduce different difficulty levels.


Increase results with Randomization and Insights Reporting

The true beauty of game-simulation based training is the ability to introduce randomization. When I was a kid we would always start on the easy level and work our way up to beating incrementally harder levels. This isn’t any different. As employees go through an easy game…I mean, simulation, they can get hints and highlights to help them throughout the experience. As they advance, you remove the assistance and start adding randomization into the equation. In the context of a VR Safety Training module, this can allow for hazards to appear in different locations or even trigger a random event to occur where the user must react accordingly. The best part is that all this data can be tracked, categorized and scored so you can truly see the competency level of your company.

Randomizing issues or hazards impedes the ability for a user to memorize the simulation and keeps them on their toes for the most engaging experience possible. When you know each experience is different, it fosters critical thinking skills as they progress. This type of randomization is not typically attainable or as impactful in static learning experiences, and real-life scenario-based training is neither scalable, cost-effective, or even possible if trying to replicate a life-threatening situation. Bottom line? To derive the maximum benefit, structure the game so that employees are challenged regardless of skill level.


Once you have the VR experience and randomization steps in place, the last, but potentially most important piece is to integrate it with a service like AMP that will track analytics and insights by capturing data from each user’s training session. Nearly any metric captured from the experience can be tracked, sorted, filtered and integrated with legacy systems to derive maximum benefit and flexibility. This data can be used to refine processes and improve Learning Management System (LMS) content based on the results. Similarly, you can aggregate data at scale across your entire organization to determine over and under-achieving trainees, areas of weakness, commonly missed steps, total hours in simulation and much more. These aggregated insights are especially helpful for leadership to determine the business’ return on investment and budgetary considerations for future additions.

Key Takeaway

When it comes to implementing VR within your company, the key to a successful transition into the gaming world is to start small. By taking a smart, economical approach, you can allow leadership to experience a VR training game (Yeah I said it!) with a Proof of Concept before committing to a sizable investment. When determining content for your training, focus on an initiative with a big impact and continue to improve the experience based on actual, trackable results. Often times the most scalable and beneficial experiences a company can invest in revolve around keeping their employees safe. By introducing randomization, analytics, and insights, the simulation can be evaluated as a business tool to justify continuing budget while ensuring it isn’t relegated to a marketing or recruiting gimmick.

Nothing is more important than keeping your employees safe. Every HSE professional shares the responsibility of mitigating the risk of injury or death through proper training and safety measures. We are incredibly fortunate to live in a time where technology such as Virtual Reality can be used to replicate environments and randomize events to more effectively train employees. Above all else, when you introduce VR Safety Training to your employees, you can rest easy knowing your employees are equipped with the information they need to stay safe in the workplace.



Abstract provides engaging, cutting-edge interactive and software solutions designed to improve your employee’s effectiveness, efficiency, and safety. We work with global companies like Rolls-Royce, Eaton, Saudi Aramco, Schlumberger, Anadarko and many more on emerging technology projects in Virtual/Augmented Reality and software development. We also utilize our SAAS product, AMP, for analytics tracking to connect legacy systems with today’s latest technologies. Learn more at Abstract.tech.


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