Gerdau uses virtual reality for employee safety training

by Talk Business & Politics staff ( 293 views 

Bob Stinchcomb, engineering manager for Gerdau, tries a safety training app using virtual reality goggles. Gerdau in Fort Smith was one of the company's first steel mills to test the app.

Gerdau plans to use virtual reality to train its nearly 500 employees at its Fort Smith steel mill. The company recently developed a smartphone app, allowing employees to use it in conjunction with virtual reality goggles and a controller.

The app offers users a real-life view of the steel mill’s maintenance shop and puts them in scenarios in which they can identify dangerous situations and rank their severity. At the end of the scenario, the users can see what they missed or what they ranked incorrectly.

“This is easier said than done because risk perception is different from person to person,” said Clinton Johnson, management systems facilitator for Gerdau. “Thus, good training is necessary. The VR system can help get the whole team on the same page about what is considered a high severity and low severity near miss.”

In the scenario, Johnson identified a steel worker fixing a running machine whose hand was past the guard and in danger of being struck. Using the controller, Johnson intervened by selecting an exclamation mark to the side of his view.

Johnson, who was in charge of setup and use of the virtual reality goggles, and 18 other employees beta tested the smartphone app. Beta testing took place on Steel Safety Day, a worldwide movement organized by nonprofit Worldsteel Association, which encourages safe practices in the steel industry.

“This type of training allows employees to navigate through hazardous areas without exposing themselves to real hazards,” safety manager Britton Shaw said.

“I think it has the potential to be a very powerful training tool because it puts things into a more real perspective,” Johnson said. “In our current hazard awareness training we just show pictures and videos. But to actually put people in a virtual environment makes it more real, and thus makes a more lasting impression.”