Miguel Flores has been out of work for about two years and makes a living thanks to government subsidies provided by Ecuador’s social security administration. Miguel suffers from circulatory problems, lives in cycles of depression or rage, and needs support from family and friends to do some simple daily tasks. Miguel’s life changed after he lost his arm operating a fruit chopper in a medium-sized agroindustry firm in Santo Domingo de Los Tsachilas, Ecuador, that specializes in producing frozen pulp. Miguel and his family had to bear the high economic and psychological costs of recovery, which worsened during the pandemic. Miguel’s story is not uncommon in Ecuador. According to recent estimates from the International Labor Organization, every year, Ecuador reports over 11,000 work-related accidents (about 30 accidents every day), of which 600 cases relate to being struck by a falling object or a piece of equipment. About 557 cases end in amputation.
Lack of adequate training, one of the main causes of accidents at work
Santo Domingo is an Ecuadorian province that, in the last decades, has registered impressive economic growth rates in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing in the past decades. These three industries combined account for about 56% of the province’s economy. These leading industries and quite labor intensive and require the use of heavy machinery for their operation. With high industrial growth, labor accidents have also become more common in the province. Most accidents result from the workers’ inadequate use and operation of production equipment. About half of all accidents occur in agroindustry and manufacturing firms. Lack of adequate training for industrial risk management constitutes one of the main determinants of work accidents. Inadequate use of equipment, limited exposure to safety prevention techniques, and lack of clear protocols to follow when there is an accident are all factors that increase work-related accidents.
Virtual Reality, a promising alternative to train workers prevent work-related accidents
As disasters and accidents are recurrent in all areas, safety and risk prevention training are essential to mitigate their incidence, provide a rapid response, and minimize casualties. In industrial risk prevention, developing student skills remains challenging for trainees and their tutors, partly because of the limited availability of hands-on training or access to appropriate content and learning situations.
For instance, training workers to address emergencies correctly is difficult due to the inability to replicate emergency environments. As a response,
Virtual laboratories, that allows students to simulate risks and emergencies without real pressure or danger, are a promising tool to train students to prevent industrial risks. Available studies show that VR training can be more effective than traditional training in fields such as of prevention of industrial risks.
The VR simulations can be internalized as lived experiences by the student and hence contributing to a long lasting acquired knowledge that can be of great value at the time of a real accident occurrence.
Through the Secretariat of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation (SENESCYT), the Government of Ecuador began to roll out the ActiVaR program with technical support from the World Bank and financial support from the Korea World Bank Partnership Facility. ActiVaR supports the implementation and evaluation of using VR technologies to deliver practical training in selected Technical and Technological Programs in Ecuador.
The ActiVaR program is being rolled out at the Tsachila Technological Institute to deliver practical training in occupational safety and risk prevention. The ActiVaR curriculum is the result of a process of consultations with local employers.
The curricular content of the program, developed in coordination with the EDUCATE Foundation, mitigates the main occupational accidents in Santo Domingo province. Students access the experience through Virtual Reality headsets, where Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) recreations of a factory and a school provide the perfect learning ground to assess risky environments, learn about best practices and review safety protocols.
The gamified experience allows the users (students) to practice, test their knowledge at the end of each section, and achieve goals to move to the next phase. The course consists of 5 modules:
- Introduction to the prevention of industrial risks;
- Work Environments and risk factors in the industrial sector;
- Types of Risk,
- Preventive measures for the use of machinery, and
- Emergency Control.
Each module provides students with a fully immersive educational experience that recreates the main topics of industrial risks by putting the users in a fictionalized hazardous situation. The experience also has a back-end system that teachers can use to review grades, track progress, and assess the student's performance in the VR experience.Teachers were able to provide input to the remaining students waiting to take their turn by addressing a screen that mirrored what their peers experienced in real-time.
Virtual Reality: A tool to ensure the success of digital learning
Since then, it has benefited over 150 students enrolled in the Safety and Prevention of Industrial Risks Program. ActiVaR is one of the first experiences of its kind in Latin America and aims to inform policymakers in Ecuador and Latin America about the benefits of using EdTech to improve education quality. In Santo Domingo, ActiVaR will reduce work-related accidents, enhance local employers' productivity, and, ultimately, save lives. In Ecuador, as in many countries globally, the pandemic resulting from the COVID-19 virus has contributed to accelerating the offer of digital education. VR training is, without a doubt, a mechanism capable of giving students experiential interaction that will lead to learning.