“Come over here mate — pop this headset on, hold these two controls and have a look around.” It’s not exactly your traditional conversation about safety at Melbourne Water — and that’s precisely the point.

Victoria’s water wholesaler has successfully integrated virtual reality into its suite of workplace safety training. Standard VR just wasn’t enough for Melbourne Water and Deakin University, so they designed and developed their own system in Melbourne.

The technology allows operators to interact with one another in the same ‘virtual space’ from anywhere in the world, bringing a new level of interactivity, flexibility and safety to workplace training. It also does away with the need for controllers by using Infrared Hand Tracking Technology.

The innovation was awarded by Victoria’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulator as ‘best solution to a specific workplace Health & Safety issue’ in late 2017.

“People learn and engage with information in different ways so it was important that we tailored our approach,” said Melbourne Water’s Technology and Innovation Safety Manager, Scott McMillan.

“It’s that ‘learning by doing’ approach — this platform allows our operational staff to learn without being exposed to the risks associated with some of the hazardous work that we undertake to keep Melbourne’s water and sewers running.”

The platform, designed in collaboration with Deakin University, has been used to identify design defects and OHS risks during planning phases of major capital projects.

Traditionally, two-dimensional drawings and three-dimension modelling were used during design and hazard detection processes. This raised challenges for technicians and operators as they tried to contextualise the finished plant and offer feedback regarding safety or operability issues to the designers, constructors and project managers.

“We were finding that some hazards were identified after the asset was operational, which is not ideal because there’s potential safety issues, increased costs and difficult fixes post-construction,” Mr McMillan said.

“We knew we needed to engage the operations and maintenance technicians in a more immersive way and so we thought a virtual reality system could help us to bridge that gap, and show the technicians what the proposed designed would look like in as close as possible to a real world space.”

Mr McMillan said that the potential applications of this technology for people living and working in regional and remote locations are significant.

“We are very excited about this because there is enormous potential to provide immersive learning experiences on location instead of people travelling long distances to learn new skills.”  

Melbourne Water is currently using VR to:

  • Enhance its identification of design defects and OHS risks during the planning phase of capital projects
  • Train staff on management of ozone, a dangerous chemical used in the wastewater treatment process
  • Train staff on how to respond to and treat a snake bite.

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