Lloyd’s Register has developed a Virtual Reality (VR) Safety Simulator to help support training and knowledge transfer in the energy industry and illustrate the need for a continued focus on safety and risk assessment. Patrick Kingsland spoke to LR’s VP of Marketing and Communications, Peter Richards and Global Academy Training Manager, Luis De La Fuente, about how it works.

Patrick Kingsland: What are the key challenges the offshore industry faces today in terms of safety training?

Luis De La Fuente: The oil and gas industry is very cyclical. During downturns you have skilled people leaving and companies can be left with a knowledge gap with only a handful of experienced people. Challenging times often result in less training as training budgets get reduced or are transferred elsewhere. During boom periods you often get a sudden influx of new talent who are often less experienced. And some of the more skilled personnel who were let go during the downturn leave the industry and decide not to come back. This means you lose quite a bit of hands-on knowledge and experience. For us, the whole goal is to work out how to reduce that learning gap, and get a person to a competent, senior level in as short amount of time as possible.

PK: How could virtual reality help reduce that learning gap in your opinion?

LF: Well one good way is to introduce as much theory as possible so that when staff get onto the job sites they are familiar with what they are doing. But you still have a gap there between theory and practice. With VR we can bring some of that hands-on practical experience into the classroom without necessarily having to put guys out there where it’s more dangerous.

Peter Richards: It’s about making the training environment more immersive so that you can really start to understand the potential hazards you are going to be exposed to. VR also provokes a reaction from individuals on the implication their actions will have in an offshore environment. And because it’s interactive people are coming away from our VR experience and actually talking about safety training in a positive way. Bear in mind this is not a subject that generally generates that level of enthusiasm.

PK: How has VR technology improved over the past few years and where did you look for inspiration?

PR: I think we’re now at a stage where VR is at a tipping point. The technology has got a lot better and the cost has come down. It’s more viable to look at it as a realistic mainstream application as opposed to where I think we were four years ago when everybody was talking about virtual reality but it was really just an overgrown 3D video.

During this gestation period we were closely following the technology to see how it was developing. In conjunction with a number of agencies we looked at gaming technology in particular. The hardware we are now using deploys handsets as well as head-sets. This gives us the ability to interact more with the environment as opposed to the initial development of VR which was just a headset.

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PK: What kind of offshore scenarios could VR training be used for?

PR: When developing the scenarios, we wanted to illustrate to individuals that a wrong decision could result in fatality. Obviously we didn’t want to glorify the actual

incidents taken from real-life scenarios so we used interactive crash test dummies to visually identify with the different settings.

One of the main scenarios we have is a lifting situation. There is a motor, which is lifted onto a crane and a lifting bolt which is calibrated to the wrong weight. You are able to look at all the variables before the actual lift takes place. Then the scenario happens. The crash test dummy is on a platform, the motor is lifted, the dummy stands underneath the motor and the bolt shears from the motor and then lands on the dummy.

The beauty of using VR is that you can then rewind time and find out what went wrong. You are given three new options to choose from: stop the person from standing underneath the motor, recalibrate the bolt correctly, or have more supervisors on the platform to identify a potential problem.

From this we can satisfactorily gauge how many people got the right answer over the course of a day, which gives us a better understanding of the level of awareness around safety challenges in the industry.

PK: And from the trials you’ve conducted so far at trade shows, how would you assess that level of awareness?

PR: We actually had one client where we took 32 of their senior executives through the training and the only individual to get all the answers right in the training was the HSE director. I think this shows that companies need to be fully aware of the environment they are sending people into. Using this technology in conjunction with a classroom environment will help them do this.

PK: What can we expect from the future in terms of VR applications in the oil and gas industry?

LF: One of the things we are looking at is moving from an individual type of experience to a team or a group based experienced. When you are out there in the field, a lot of the time you are working as part of a team and that needs to be reflected in the classroom environment. At the moment we are looking at incorporating augmented reality so that not everybody needs a headset. You can use a phone or an iPad and still enjoy the training.