Advanced technological components that allow mines to complete training in digital environments using 3D animation are often the focus of virtual reality (VR) technology. Epigroup has combined VR with true-to-life content from its clients’ mine sites for a more realistic training experience.
Epigroup’s main use for VR technology is in the training space, helping mining companies to familiarise workers with mines and the risks involved while working on them in a safe environment with scenario-based learning.
As Epigroup co-director James Teakle explains, the company is using its background in film direction to give workers a realistic experience, even using leaders in the sector to combine the technology with human knowledge and instinct.
“Epigroup’s point of difference is combining our WHS (work health and safety) expertise with our background in filmmaking, motion graphics and special effects,” Teakle tells Safe to Work.
“We take our VR cameras out to film on a mine site, then bring them back to overlay motion graphics and special effects.
“This transforms the spaces to give a real experience of the site, as opposed to using a digitally animated environment which doesn’t look as realistic and takes away experiencing a mine site exactly as it is.”
Many VR safety training programs are put together in this more animated style with 3D renders and digitally created characters.
To create an even more profound learning experience, Epigroup prefers to capture video VR footage of senior employees and mine managers and integrate them into the training programs.
Trainees are then able to gain insights from real experts when learning about risks of certain areas of a mine site.
“One of our products is Expert Eyes, which is built from us filming a scene somewhere on a mine site or refinery processing area,” Teakle explains.
“We engage with one of the site’s experts in that particular processing area or piece of plant and they share their knowledge as they gaze around the site.
“They see things someone new wouldn’t see, just through their natural senses and experience.
“We film the scenes of what they’re looking out for, seeing and bringing in their past experience of events that may have happened on that site or to that piece of equipment.”
Teakle says that combining this expertise with VR to create Expert Eyes gives people an experience that goes beyond what a trainee would get even if they were actually at the mine site.
By combining real-life experience and the emotional, human response to events, workers are able to prepare for accidents or disasters as if they were happening, without risking their personal safety.
“If the person talking in the earpiece is a knowledgeable and respected senior person, this is far more engaging not just for new trainees, but other employees updating their training,” Teakle says.
“It helps accelerate risk perception by letting people witness safety failures in a safe and controlled environment, so they get a sense of the consequences in a very realistic setting.
“The consequences and catastrophic outcomes just can’t be represented in real life, but in VR you can do that. When people see something that could go wrong it’s the emotional response that best helps them to learn and to become more aware of the risks.”
Epigroup has experienced extremely positive feedback from workers following training, with mining employees saying they feel more confident on site and not as overwhelmed by new equipment, structures and locations.
Aside from the obvious advantages of preparing workers for the worst in a safe environment, Teakle believes VR training will also help combat issues of the risk of important knowledge being lost in an ageing industry.
With Epigroup capturing information from experts in mining companies, this information can then be used when training the next generation of Australian miners.
“We see VR as a really good way to capture that knowledge and of using technology to pass on generations of experience to the next generation of workers,” Teakle says.
“This information from the experienced operators is captured forever. A lot of the next generation won’t get to learn from their experience unless they’ve worked with these people one on one and VR is a really good way of capturing this for those future workers.”
The technology can also be used to aid investigations after incidents occur, capturing the location and how the incident took place to get a better sense of the elements that caused it.
“Using VR gives a better sense of the location than looking at flat, stretched or pixelated images generally taken with a mobile phone. They don’t create a lot of value in terms of the human factor assessment,” Teakle explains.
“If we are able to capture that scene in a 360-degree space, the people investigating the incident can get a much better sense of the physical situation and how the elements came together to cause the event and how human factors came into play.”
To help companies put their VR training programs into place, Epigroup also runs classroom-based WHS training at its Perth office.
The training not only prepares workers before they go out to site, but also arranges for offices to obtain the headsets and run their own training to fit their schedules.
With VR adapting from when it was first released in the 1990s with clunky, computer-tethered equipment to the wireless headsets with high-quality imagery of today, Epigroup believes this advanced method of learning is here to stay.
“Generally, the first response people have of the technology is that they’re in awe of the technology, before even seeing the true value of it,” Teakle continues.
“It’s when they realise their response is syncing into actual learning when it starts to click that VR isn’t just a cool gimmick, it’s giving workers experience and knowledge they didn’t have before, all in a secure environment.
This article also appears in the July–August edition of Safe to Work.