03rd Jul, 2020 Read time 3 minutes

The use of augmented reality in health and safety

The practice of health and safety for decades has involved heavily manual processes with a focus on paper-driven methods and, for many companies, a prioritisation of compliance over innovation. However, that appears to be changing as we head into a new decade.

AR (Augmented Reality) is now being increasingly adopted across industries like product development, medicine and now, health and safety. Applications cover uses in training, system monitoring, machine maintenance and a range of other uses.

It is worth stating the difference between virtual reality and augmented reality. The former uses a completely computer-simulated 360-degree view that can allow you to manipulate the environment around you. The latter is when technology is used to overlay digital information over a real view of the environment.

The most famous examples of both uses include applications for gaming and social media, however more professional uses are now being developed and implemented.

Adoption of AR in health and safety training

Part of the challenge many training schemes in health and safety find is giving individuals the opportunity to develop hands-on experience whilst also not putting themselves or others at risk. Augmented Reality can help with this. It could, in theory, help to bridge the gap between the classroom and physical experience.

If, for example, a junior maintenance worker needs to perform routine checks on a machine, headsets could be overlaid text and training information whilst the checks are being performed. This could speed up the process of getting workers hands-on experience, increasing their development.

From a compliance viewpoint, an augmented reality headset that overlays checklists could help workers perform mandatory checks and input them immediately into a system, increasing compliance and productivity.


Are there any risks in using Augmented Reality in HSE?

Whilst there are undoubted upsides that could potentially be harnessed by organisations’ adopting AR in health and safety, the increased use of technology does come with some risk.

Tech is vulnerable to failure, and if glitches occur within a system, it could lead to staff being ‘left in the dark’ as to what to do. This also ties into an area many are concerned with when it comes to AR, and that is an overreliance on technology that diminishes the knowledge or the individual.

In addition to the inherent nature of technology to be prone to error, augmented reality could pose a long term risk to a workers personal health. Just as screens and desk equipment usage needs to be managed, so to do augmented headsets.

Eye strain and a perception impairment may become present in new users of augmented reality. This is where high levels of compliance may become necessary to ensure the use of AR is as safe as possible.


Examples of AR improving Health and Safety

For augmented reality to take off in the near future, early adopted will have to be vigilant and proactive in making changes.

Boeing is an example of a company that has changed its process to incorporate AR. The wiring of their aircraft is a complex process that for the Boeing, often involved large printed diagrams, from which the wiring was never correctly implemented the first time. Not only was this an inefficient process, but it also led to the potential for more errors.

With the adoption of AR, the layout of the wiring can now be directly projected onto the components, speeding up the process and reducing the total number of errors present throughout the build.

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