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On the job VR demonstration at Fort Worth work safety summit

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Safety in a Box

The app is free. You can buy a Google Cardboard for $15 on the Google store (

Today, I fell off a building.

As the sweat dripped between my shoulders, both from my fear of heights and the Texas heat, I stared down at the giant drop-off. The construction workers had warned me not to be this close to the edge, but I ignored them. And then I fell.

As the screen produced a safety message, I returned to my swivel chair in the humid Stockyards Station.

This demonstration was a part of a new virtual reality training program, Safety in a Box, that Texas Mutual Insurance Co. demonstrated at the 2017 Work Safe, Texas Summit June 20 at the Fort Worth Stockyards Station.

“I’ve always said you can only fall off a building in the real world once,” said Jeremiah Bentley, vice president of marketing and customer engagement for Texas Mutual. But with virtual reality, “you have the opportunity to live through it, to learn from it and hopefully if you are ever in that situation in the real world you’ll remember what’s happened and you’ll avoid it when the time comes.”

Safety in a Box is a virtual reality tool that uses Google Cardboard and an app developed by Texas Mutual to show different workplace accidents such as being electrocuted, trapped in a collapsed trench, hit by a falling object and falling off a building.

“It’s a way to really have that firsthand experience in a way that you cannot have anywhere else, and we think it’s a lot more meaningful, it’s a lot more visceral,” Bentley said. “It’s a lot more emotional than just having a guy stand in front of a wall and show you a boring old construction video from 30 years ago.”

The simulations are about construction safety; however, Bentley said that Texas Mutual plans to create simulations for the manufacturing industry next.

The tool was being demonstrated between presentations at the summit so that everyone attending could get a chance to try it. One of the participants, Jesse De Leon, a human resources director at Polygaurd Products, tried the VR tool.

“I think it was pretty straightforward, very clear. I didn’t know where to look all the time but it was very impressive,” said De Leon.

At the event, I also talked with Josh Paulin, a maintenance supervisor at Classic Construction, who had a near-fatal accident when he fell through a skylight.

“We [construction workers] feel like we could do anything, we’re invincible, but no matter how long or how much experience that you have, you can always make that one mistake. You know in all the years that I did this, I never thought that I would fall through a skylight on this roof,” said Paulin. “I mean, my biggest fear, I thought I’d fall off the ladder going up, to be honest with you. I never paid attention to the skylight, but if I’d have known about it or maybe if I’d have been trained, you know maybe I would have thought about it or second thought about it.”

The real-life situations represented in the VR tool are intense and Bentley said the company discussed how realistic to make the simulations.

“You could use blood and guts, but I don’t think that works for once,” said Bentley. “We tried to be really subtle, so something happens, it fades to black and you get a safety message that reinforces the behavior that you need to do, and so we think we’ve managed to draw a line to where it’s impactful but it’s not going to turn people off.”

Texas Mutual and Bentley have already begun to receive awards for the development of Safety in a Box. According to a news release, in 2016 Texas Mutual earned the Innovation in Action Award from Strategy Meets Action and Bentley received a Comp Laude award from WorkCompCentral.

When asked about the future of this technology, Bentley said, “I think virtual reality and then augmented reality, too, are really the future and I think it’s moved beyond gaming and we’re the first insurance company to come out with something like this, but I think it makes sense for safety that we need to keep up with people where they are.”

Bentley also said that this type of innovation was necessary for safety training to adapt to changes in attention spans and other needs.

“So I think that’s where that is going,” he said. “It’s going be a big thing over the next 5 or 10 years across the board … as the cost of creating things comes down and people are able to make it more accessible.”

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