On average, there are 99 workplace fatalities a week, more than 14 a day, in the United States alone.
The leading causes of workplace injuries and fatalities include:
● Falls, slips, and trips
● Contact with equipment and objects
● Exposure to harmful substances and environments
● Transportation accidents
● Violence inflicted by other people
On a global scale, the International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates that nearly 1 million workplace fatalities occur annually. While the United States accounts for only a fraction of these fatalities at 5,190 ― (and 8,559,000 annual workplace injuries) 1 the tragedy is that most of these fatalities and injuries could have been prevented if adequate health and safety information was made available to workers.
The financial implications of workplace fatalities and injuries in the U.S. alone is estimated to be $200 billion USD a year. These expenses come from medical and legal costs incurred in the aftermath of harmful workplace events.
While legislative policies have ushered in new health and safety standards, and advancements in technology have allowed for the automation of some dangerous tasks, further measures are needed to ensure the safety of employees in high- risk industries.
Within the U.S., the construction and manufacturing industry experiences more fatalities and injuries than any other industry in the nation, with 1 in 5 work related deaths occurring in the construction profession.
Throughout the world, public safety professionals are frequently exposed to hazardous and dangerous situations early in their professional training, and throughout their career. Firefighters are consistently exposed to known carcinogens and experience significantly elevated rates of cancer during their training and in their line of work.
Furthermore, police officers experience some of the highest risk of being injured or killed in automotive accidents and by violence inflicted by other people, than any other professional sector.
A common thread among these inherently dangerous professions involves putting a trainee in a potentially harmful situation, usually with minimal task knowledge and limited experience.
While real-life, hands-on experience is one of the greatest teachers, virtual reality (VR) training can be used to introduce a novice to the tasks of a high-risk profession, responsibly and optimally. Thus, when time comes for real-life, hands-on action, trainees are more familiar with their environment, more experienced in the task needed to be performed, and more knowledgeable of the risks present.
Training for Safety in VR
The difference between traditional training and VR training is the ability to simulate a wide variety of dangerous situations (i.e., handling large equipment, or hazardous materials, ― to encountering hostile people) without creating real danger for a trainee or others.
VR simulations offer a safe environment, where novices can begin to learn (or where experts can continue to refine) critical skills and knowledge. Through VR simulation trainees are afforded the chance to gain the experience and confidence necessary to successfully perform on the job. Leveraging VR technology in high-risk industry training allows trainees to experience the risk associated with their responsibilities in a realistic, yet controlled environment.
“One of the U.S. leaders in this area is Ford, which outfits its employees with VR experiences to simulate the construction of upcoming models in its plants, years before the cars start rolling out of the warehouse doors. This virtual reality program is responsive and proactive, measuring the way that employees would approach assigned tasks. The intent of this VR application is to encourage workers to create the tools and processes they need in order to create a safer production environment. By adopting this VR layer of oversight, the entire assembly process is streamlined and made safer and more efficient from beginning to end. Ford even invested time in measuring body stress and comfort levels to make sure their employees weren’t risking injury in their assembly of large cars like the F-15 0. The introduction of VR in the manufacturing process resulted in an injury reduction rate of 70 percent, according to Ford.”5
With VR, a prospective heavy machinery operator can get a better sense of the controls and physical coordination needed to effectively and safely operate a machine, ― or a manufacturing trainee can better understand what is involved when working at height or during hazardous material manipulation.
Additionally, public safety professionals can run through common field situations, and learn which actions need to be prioritized and the critical communications procedures necessary to maximize their effectiveness while on duty.
VR simulations allow trainees to experience the actual sights, sounds, and physical sensations of the real work environment. The opportunity to create a safer workplace and a more skillful workforce is often reason enough for high-risk industry organizations to justify the investment in VR training. This training can better prepare workers for the types of hazardous environments they will encounter on the job and greatly reduce risk of injury, mitigate associated financial losses, and most importantly, save lives.
 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2017). National census of fatal occupational injuries in 2016. Current Population Survey, Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries
 Takala. J. (2002). Decent work: Safe work, introductory report to the XVIth world congress on safety and health at work. International Labor Office: Geneva, Vienna.
[3} Leigh, J. (2011). Economic burden of occupational injury and illness in the United States. The Milbank Quarterly, 89(4), 728-772.
 Stefanidou M, Athanaselis S, Spiliopoulou C. (2008). Health impacts of fire smoke inhalation. Inhalation Toxicology, 20 761-766.
 Feldman, A. (2016, Oct. 13). Virtual reality for workplace safety in the industrial & manufacturing industry. Centric Digital. Retrieved from: https://centricdigital.com/blog/virtual-reality/virtual-reality- for-workplace-safety-in-the-industrial-manufacturing-industry/
Waehrer, G. M., Dong, X. S., Miller, T., Haile, E., & Men, Y. (2007). Costs of Occupational Injuries in Construction in the United States. Accident; Analysis and Prevention, 39(6), 1258–1266. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2007.03.012