Technologies including virtual reality (VR) and mobile elevating work platform (MEWP) simulators will soon be enhancing operator training, though not likely to replace practical testing in the foreseeable future, according to a comprehensive eXtended Reality (XR) strategy paper published by the International Powered Access Federation.
In 2018, IPAF led an industry-wide consultation into this exciting new technology and produced a detailed strategy paper based on the findings. IPAF members worked with IPAF to produce a policy document on how virtual reality systems can be effectively and safely harnessed to train MEWP operators. This led to a ground-breaking set of recommendations that are being implemented in 2019.
Tim Whiteman, CEO & MD of IPAF, comments: “The MEWP training sector is undergoing a virtual reality revolution, with MEWP simulators now so advanced that operators have been known to reach for an imaginary harness while operating them, or even asked to get off the simulator because they suffered vertigo or motion sickness!
“We wanted to hear from everyone, people who had never used a MEWP before to senior IPAF instructors, from school children to powered access pioneers and those in leadership roles of major industry bodies, rental companies and manufacturers.”
IPAF took a sophisticated MEWP simulator, developed by a member firm, to events, including the IPAF Summit in Miami, US; Intermat in Paris, France; Vertikal Days and Elevation in the UK; the IPAF Asia Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia; and the Euro Institut: Health & Safety Forum at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
IPAF also took the simulator to other events aimed at college-leavers, construction and health & safety officials, to broaden the base of engagement as widely as possible, and to ensure input to the consultation was not offered exclusively to powered access specialists. All those who tried the simulator, or who had tried different VR or simulator applications, were invited to respond via an online survey on IPAF’s website.
Tim Whiteman adds: “The feedback IPAF received was phenomenal, and in the final months of 2018, a team of IPAF staff drafted an eXtended Reality strategy paper, setting out key recommendations and objectives, and developing an implementation strategy for 2019 and beyond.”
Among overall conclusions in the consultation response was that there are substantial reasons to use XR to improve training, and no prior technology has shown as much potential to revolutionise the way IPAF provides candidates with the knowledge and skills to stay safe.
One concern raised by respondents was that exclusive use of XR for operator training could create “a sense of invincibility” as operators can simply “reset” after an accident. IPAF resolved not to enforce the use of XR technology in its training courses, but that it would not prevent the use of XR to enhance training.
IPAF ruled out developing XR equipment or simulators itself, opting instead to develop a system under which it may review, approve and certify XR hardware and software that could be used to interface with IPAF’s own training programme, in particular the IPAF PAL+ qualification, or play other key functions in delivering familiarisation and safety instruction relating to MEWP and MCWP use.
IPAF’s strategy paper states that XR can be applied to:
Complement IPAF’s guidelines and advice for the safe use of powered access;
enhance learning for operators;
enhance safety for operators.
Other key recommendations in the paper include:
Simulators can be used to prepare candidates effectively for practical testing.
Augmented reality (AR) would enhance pre-use inspection of MEWPs and enrich theory and practical training.
Interactive 360° video can contextualise a range of hazards associated with MEWP use.
VR simulators could play a major role in refresher training and to test ongoing operator competency.
The IPAF XR strategy paper was approved for publication by the IPAF Council and Board in the final months of 2018, and published in January 2019. IPAF is now working closely with members and those developing XR hardware and software to implement its XR strategy, which will provide a framework and terms of reference for those seeking to apply or adopt the technology to enhance accredited or recognised training and complement the safe use of powered access worldwide.