COULD VIRTUAL REALITY BE THE FUTURE OF HEALTH AND SAFETY TRAINING?

by Brendan Torazzi

Sep 27, 2018

Brendan: welcome to the Australian Health and Safety Business Podcast. I’m Brendan Torazzi, your host and I’m here today with Nigel Davidson from ACHIEVR. How are you?

Nigel: good. It’s great to be here.

Brendan: fantastic so tell us a little bit about ACHIEVR and what you're currently doing how does that relate to health and safety.

Nigel: ACHIEVR empowers training organizations so we do that through immersive technologies or augmented or virtual reality.

Brendan: is there many people playing in the space at the moment?

Nigel: there are traditionally a lot of industry players in the gaming sector but less so in training and education. We’re finding that the area is still a little bit nascent but it's definitely a niche where there’s a very compelling business case for investment in virtual reality.

Brendan: have you got any courses up and running at the moment?

Nigel: we do. We’re focused at the moment on high risk sectors. We have a mobile crane training simulator that we've done. We’ve also done a dogging training course as well for the high risk work license. What we find is that although we service education and training that the business case and the return on investment for high risk areas is really straightforward and it's easy to demonstrate to organizations.

Brendan: looking at one of those crane courses if they were to, there’s a fair few crane RTOs around that are delivering that kind of training what kind of investment do they have to make when they go down traditional means?

Nigel: that is exactly the right question. When we look at making an investment in VR it's really important to understand where the value is going to be derived. It’s not about a shiny new thing or an innovative, cool piece of technology. It’s really more about exploring how we can help organizations make money or save money using the technology. The cost is one of the attributes that we definitely look for to see whether it's a good business case for VR. Costs looks at okay, if I want to deliver as an RTO or a training provider of course on mobile cranes then I need let's say a million dollar crane to be able to deliver that course or the alternative might be that I pay something like $6,500 a day to rent a crane so my students can have access to that crane. The cost becomes quite a substantial part of what would be maybe $2000 cost. If we can through virtual reality provide multiple stations which all have replicate cranes of the type of cranes that they would use out on site in the real world. We’re able to give students access to that simultaneously then that is a huge win and a huge cost benefit for organizations.

Brendan: then I also imagine there must be a bit of an advantage with people. They’re learning. If they make a mistake in a simulator versus make a mistake in a real crane.

Nigel: yes, exactly. That is going back to your question that is when we find often there is a strong link to health and safety is that it's very favorable to high risk industries and high risk situations. We’re able to do things in virtual reality that would be otherwise be unsafe to do in real life. An example might be looking at emergency response scenarios and how people react under pressure we can put in hazards in the virtual world and watch and monitor how people react to that as well and see how students perform.

the other thing is of course is just the idea of putting new students or inexperienced students in high risk equipment and have them swing around a five ton load around the yard for the first time is in itself inherently risky. We can significantly reduce risk with the right approach and the right application of the technology as well.

Brendan: that is great. Tell me a little bit about how you arrived at where you are today because it's very innovative what you're doing and as you say it's emerging technology. What got you interested in it and what was your pathway to come into the world of health and safety?

Nigel: like you say my background is in health and safety. I probably dont have a good answer for how I jumped into health and safety. I went into university straight out of school. I wasn’t too sure of where I wanted to head but health and safety seemed like an area that would give you access to multiple industries. I also had the idea in my mind that I would be able to swap over to other courses if need be.

Brendan: what did you actually study at uni?

Nigel: I went to the University of Newcastle and did oc health and safety. What I found though is it actually surprised me a little bit. One of the things that I found really interesting about that particular course without having any experience was just how trans disciplinary it was. One day we could doing toxicology and then the next day anatomy and then the following day we'd be sitting in the law faculty studying legislation and then business. I actually found that quite intriguing. The other allure I think for health and safety professionals is just the ability to work across multiple industries. Typically most jobs, most professions will have you boxed into to one particular industry. I just like the freedom that health and safety provided that you could literally go into any other industry at any time and apply and learn about that industry and apply similar methods and pick up on different things. That is where I started. I went over after graduating to the UK. My wife got a scholarship to study over there so I thought that is a great opportunity to get out and about. We travelled around a little bit. I actually picked up my first job in health and safety over in the UK.

Brendan: the skills that you learned in Australia were fully transferrable there?

Nigel: correct. I worked for a construction and utilities company straight out. That was my first entry point into construction by a company called Enterprise PLC which I think they're now Amey over in the UK. That was a really good experience. I went into a couple of different roles there. At the end of that we decided do we go back to Australia and set up life there. My wife is Brazilian. The other option was to go to Brazil. The adventurer in me said, let's go to Brazil. We packed up and went and lived in Brazil for a few years as well. It’s one of those experiences that kind of shape who you are and I did some work with some good friend of mine in the area of health and safety in a consultancy capacity with some of the local construction companies over there.

Brendan: how stringent are their health and safety regulations over in Brazil or is it fairly lose?

Nigel: I would say there's quite a lot of regulation but enforcement is quite lax compared to Australia.

Brendan: were you based in Sao Paulo?

Nigel: it's actually in the northeast of the country in a city called Recife. You could probably in comparison to the rest of Brazil, to the south of Brazil it was more underdeveloped. There was quite different challenges there that you'd face as a health and safety professional.

Brendan: it's interesting though isn’t it because I guess the companies over there doing health and safety they would have to be a very strong case?

Nigel: yes.

Brendan: if they’re doing it over there they're obviously either making money or saving money by having someone like yourself go in and work that angle.

Nigel: what we have found is that the lower end controls on the hierarchy if you like. We really wouldn’t have too much sway in terms of engineering methods and substituting how they were doing but a lot of the focus and a lot of the wins that we got was really around training and education and process. A lot of those that work for us were actually coming in from the rural areas and they lived on site. There’s a lot of different issues and they weren’t literate in a lot of ways. Quite a few unique challenges that we worked through but we’re able to make some good inroads there but definitely a great experience. Found ourselves back here in Australia probably about 10 to 12 years now, 2008 at the start.

Brendan: what did you do when you came back to Australia?

Nigel: I got straight back into health and safety. I picked up a job with kind of construction on an infrastructure sector working with United Group and did a little bit with Lend Lease and then most recently did a stint at Sydney Water as well. My time I guess you could say there was always a tendency for me to look at training and education as a key focal point of health and safety. I believe strategies that have a strong pillar on investing in people and focusing efforts on people is where I like to position myself and where I see a lot of opportunity. Unfortunately in a regulated industry such as this what we find is that the compliance culture does tend to rear its ugly head at times and as a result training and education can suffer a little bit.

My whole thing ever since I was in my early days in England was really looking at how can we better engage with our workforce? How can we better provide training and learning opportunities so that we can get some improved outcomes for safety? I think that is where an area where we can improve and hence why I sort of took this road. I was at the stage where I think probably a couple of years ago now the technology around and the landscape around virtual reality has really become a lot more ubiquitous and cheaper and traditionally you would have these big, bulky simulators that come out of industries such as aviation and mining per the industries which have a lot of money to spend. It’s only in recent times that we've really seen a change and a reduction in costs and increasing accessibility around the technology. That is where the opportunity lies.

Brendan: to give you a bit of a picture today. Nigel has come in with a small bag, a laptop and a couple of VR headsets and pretty much that is all you need to get going. It’s amazing the mobility and the technology where it's at now. I had a bit of play today. I was super impressed with the demos that you showed me. It really does mirror the real world and it gives you accessibility to things that you wouldn’t normally be able to access.

Nigel: that is exactly right. I think until you actually what we find when we talk to clients and people in the industry, until you actually experience VR it's really hard to grasp exactly how it can help you. We make sure that we first give, before anything, before any discussion we give people an opportunity to experience what VR is like and then we can have a discussion and start ideating around whether it's good for you, good for your organization.

Brendan: have you hit some of those old employers up with the concept of VR training?

Nigel: not as yet. We’re kind of focused on providing, I guess eventually we will but at this stage we're looking at building up a bit of a library of content that we can go to organizations en masse. One of the barriers that we find a lot of people have is just I guess a preconceived idea around what VR is. They might have had experience with a VR in the past which wasn’t ideal or it might have made them sick or it might be something that was very gimmicky. What we want to make sure is that we sit down with our clients and we take them through what is a really good business case for VR and having a couple of products that we can show and actually demonstrate and real use cases we find has a much better impact on getting organizations signed up.

Brendan: I guess that is the thing. They’ve got to be visualize what their training course is going to look like and you've got a few examples which you have. I guess that is the way to start. Amazing. I’m just going to ask a few more questions now to wrap up. How old are you now?

Nigel: I am 35.

Brendan: is this your first startup, in business for yourself?

Nigel: second startup but it's my first where I’ve finally sort of made the jump and fully committed.

Brendan: before you were sort of moonlighting.

Nigel: correct, a bit of a side hustle.

Brendan: on a personal level what do you do to keep fit?

Nigel: I try to get a surf in whenever I can but that is becoming less frequent. I’ve got a couple of toddlers under five. They’re keeping me very busy but I love getting in the water whenever I can and maybe going to the gym once or twice a week.

Brendan: that sounds great. How many hours of sleep do you get on average a night? It must be a bit tricky with the little ones.

Nigel: yes, although it's been much worse. I think currently I’m probably sitting in about six or seven hours which is good for me.

Brendan: do you have any personal goals that you're looking to achieve in the next 12 months?

Nigel: I’d say I like having little mini projects to achieve on a personal level, non-work related. This one is I dont know whether you know the app. It's a called Duolingo. It’s a language learning app. I really enjoy learning languages. I started a Spanish course on that.

Brendan: a bit easier than Portuguese.

Nigel: I dont know whether it's stitching me up because I think I’m speaking Spanish and then I realize that I’m actually speaking Portuguese. It’s good to have a little side project like that. I need to get back into it. I got a bit of a low but yes.

Brendan: what business achievement would you like to be most remembered for?

Nigel: I think for me it would be achieving our vision at ACHIEVR. Our vision is any one at anytime, anywhere can learn any skill. If you think about the learning, education, knowledge and all the things that you need to do to be able to learn a skill. You actually have to be educated first. You need to read a document. You need to read a textbook and then you need to apply that. That is how we've been doing it for thousands of years. The written document is the arbiter of knowledge. That is why I think VR is so significant and will be so significant because what we're actually doing is allowing people through this technology to skip that step. You no longer have to go to university. You no longer have to be able to read a book and be literate to know how to do something or to learn how to do something because the technology is experiential.

When we talk about our vision around anyone learning any skill anywhere that is looking at maybe in a developing country somewhere a villager can learn how to deliver a baby safely using VR or it could be someone operating a crane in Dubai through the power of VR. It could be someone in London learning a new data analysis technique using augmented reality. That is where I think the power is if we can achieve that through our company and through what we do I think that would be a massive achievement. That is why our name is ACHIEVR. It’s broad. It’s ambitious but that is the opportunity for us.

Brendan: if the listeners want to find out a little bit more about what you're doing Nigel, where can they go to?

Nigel: they can go to our website which is just ACHIEVR.io.

Brendan: I’ll put that in the show notes so people can access you.

Nigel: or contact myself at Nigel@ACHIEVR.media.

Brendan: thanks very much for coming in today Nigel. It was great to hear about your story.

Nigel: absolute pleasure. Thanks Brendan.


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