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How VR Is Improving Lockout/Tagout Training

By Jack Shaw
Last updated: May 22, 2024
Key Takeaways

Using virtual reality to train employees allows them to learn lockout/tagout procedures in a safe environment – all while avoiding costly equipment downtime.

Man wearing hard hat and safety gloves working on electrical wiring.
Source: Emmanuel Ikwuegbu (Unsplash)

Maintaining a safe workplace is challenging when electrical equipment and machinery are involved. Even inspecting, servicing, or repairing equipment that has been powered down can be hazardous, but a thorough lockout/tagout (LOTO) procedure significantly reduces the risks.

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Training on those procedures is essential. Even the best lockout/tagout program can fail if the workers don’t know how to follow it properly.

This is where virtual reality (VR) technology comes into play. With the right software, you can improve the effectiveness of your lockout/tagout training and create a safer workplace.

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Why Lockout/Tagout Procedures Are Essential

Turning off or unplugging energized equipment isn’t always enough. In some cases, an accidental release of energy can create hazardous conditions when the equipment was supposed to be de-activated:

  • Residual hydraulic energy could cause a machine’s components to move
  • Electrical equipment could deliver a shock even after being unplugged
  • A machine’s thermal element could heat up even if no one activated it

Thankfully, LOTO procedures can prevent this from happening.

Lockout/tagout is essentially a four step process:

  1. Fully de-energize the machine or equipment
  2. Apply a lock to the equipment to prevent the accidental release of energy
  3. Tag the equipment to ensure that no one unlocks it without authorization
  4. When the equipment is ready to be used again, the lock and tag are removed

When the lock is applied properly, it will prevent the equipment from moving or activating unexpectedly. The tags, meanwhile, inform everyone that the equipment has been locked and cannot be operated until every step of the LOTO procedure has been completed.

It’s a simple and effective way to reduce the risk of injury. Despite this, lockout/tagout still ranks among OSHA’s 10 most frequently cited safety standards.

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Improving LOTO compliance is critical, and training is a great tool for achieving this. Because workers can’t follow LOTO procedures to a tee unless they completely understand them. And one of the best ways to understand them is to experience them in a virtual environment.

How VR Improves LOTO Training

Virtual reality creates an immersive simulated environment that can be accessed by wearing a VR headset. This is a blessing for safety training, since it allows users to walk though hazardous scenarios, practice skills, or familiarize themselves with heavy machinery without ever being put in harm’s way. In fact, this technology is so advantageous to the workplace that industry leaders will spend around $4.1 billion on VR and AR training programs in 2024.

Virtual reality is an excellent tool for LOTO procedure compliance training. These are the primary benefits of making VR part of your lockout/tagout training.

1. It Can Simulate Hazardous Situations

Real-world training can only go so far. No one would sign up to experience what it’s like when LOTO procedures go wrong.

Knowing it first-hand would be very valuable, however. It’s easy to tell someone how to repair heavy machinery or electrical equipment when everything goes well. It’s another to show them what’s at stake when something is off – and to see the signs the lockout procedure hasn’t been completed properly.

VR can create those detailed experiences without risking anyone’s physical safety. Teams can go through the steps of the LOTO procedure, like installing a lock or hasp, verifying the installation, and ensuring that the equipment has been fully de-energized.

2. It Allows for Real-Time Performance Tracking

You can’t see an employee’s thought processes when they’re completing a written test or figuring out a real-world electrical issue. VR headsets can give you that insight. You can watch employees go through the virtual procedure in real-time, creating opportunities to work through challenges together and closely observe their approach to locking and tagging

3. It Provides Sliding-Scale Experiences

LOTO training is necessary for people who have never learned it before as well as those who need a refresher. VR situations accommodate this by having adjustable intensities.

New employees can practice at their own pace to understand the various procedures without excessive stress or overwhelming amounts of new information. A team leader might walk a new hire through a routine maintenance procedure in VR so they can become familiar with the hazardous components, the different types of locks, and how to properly apply tags. 

More seasoned workers, meanwhile, can work through complex scenarios without as much hand-holding. They can also do it in real time because they won’t need to slow things down to learn about basic signs or tools they already use routinely.

4. It Doesn’t Expend Single-Use Resources

A team practicing LOTO procedures might need to handle tools and locks designated only for occasional training purposes. They will also need to waste tags and other materials.

Additionally, new workers trying to lock machinery for the first time might inadvertently damage either the lock or the equipment.

VR LOTO training only requires a computer and a headset. The trainees can use or wear down the virtual materials all they want, none of it will affect the company’s actual stock and supply.

5. It Saves Money

Business owners have to make a choice when it comes to LOTO training: invest in an in-house training program or book costly sessions with certified third-party training companies.

Either option is expensive, but a team that has VR training software can conduct high-quality training sessions for a one-time purchasing fee. Those up front costs are especially small when you consider that a VR setup can be used for refreshers and other types of safety training at little extra cost.

Additionally, updating a VR training program only requires a single click. There’s no need to rewrite the entire training program yourself when there’s a change to lockout/tagout standards.

6. It Prevents Downtime and Production Delays

Until now, learning how to lock and tag equipment meant actually locking the equipment. Machinery had to be turned off, de-energized, locked, and then unlocked – sometimes several times in a row.

This created a considerable amount of downtime and production delays, since key pieces of equipment would be rendered out of commission until the training sessions were over.

With just a few VR headsets, businesses no longer need to pause operations to train their employees. While the trainees handle virtual equipment in a simulated environment, the machinery on the production floor can continue functioning as it would on any other workday.

This also ensures that the training itself doesn’t get delayed. LOTO training sessions don’t have to be pushed back because the company can’t afford to turn off the equipment during a production rush or because the LOTO tags haven’t been restocked. Everything the workers need is instantly available in VR.

 

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Tips for Designing LOTO VR Training

While training software is available, anyone interested in using VR for LOTO procedure training must still design their own training program. These tips will help you simplify training design and include every necessary detail.

1. List Primary Objectives

Training opportunities always need well-defined primary objectives. These ensure that the content is accurate, the trainees are learning relevant information, and the education they’re getting is beneficial for the workplace.

In the case of lockout/tagout, specific training objectives might include:

  • Notifying nearby personnel and supervisors
  • Preparing and shutting down energy sources
  • Isolating the equipment with the appropriate lock
  • Applying tags
  • Testing to ensure the hazardous energy remains isolated
  • Performing maintenance tasks on the de-energized equipment
  • Cleaning the area and notifying personnel that the equipment has been re-energized

2. Select Workplace-Relevant Scenarios

Every business is different, so the VR LOTO training must be tailored to the specific situations workers could encounter in their workplace. This means leadership teams must compare VR software options for customizable tools. Training scenarios that don’t resemble an employee’s day-to-day job are neither useful nor effective.

3. Keep a Reasonable Time Frame

When designing VR training, keep the duration of the tasks in mind. Individuals who have never used VR headsets before could sustain headaches and nausea from wearing them for too long. Even regular VR users can experience discomfort or other issues after prolonged use. 

The VR components of the training session will have to remain within a specified time frame to ensure the comfort of the user. If extended time is needed in the virtual environment, allow for breaks to give the user’s eyes a rest. Be sure to factor in the additional time that new employees will need to familiarize themselves with the LOTO procedures.

4. Add Familiar Educational Elements

Some employees may be nervous about VR training because they’re unfamiliar with the technology. Supplementing the virtual component with quizzes and other traditional learning methods could put them at ease.

This option is also helpful for gauging individual performance metrics so leadership teams know whether their VR modules are effective. The modules might need to be updated if most participants get poor results or can’t answer write-in questions.

Is It Time to Upgrade Your LOTO Procedure Training?

Company leaders can use VR for LOTO training to ensure worker safety, avoid downtime, save money, and supervise education more closely. It benefits the company and it’s in the best interest of the employees.

Designing a training program that takes advantage of VR technology is an affordable way to make training more effective and create a safer workplace.

Ready to learn more? Check out our free webinar on 5 Steps for Implementing Leading Indicators in Construction Safety!

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Written by Jack Shaw | Writer & Editor

Jack Shaw

Jack Shaw, senior editor of Modded, is a respected authority on industry and business strategies.

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