Professional development

Executive Forum: Failure as success, video games among safety innovations

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Atlanta – Video games and the idea of embracing failure are some of the innovations that can help lead to safer workplaces, speakers said Sept. 28 during the Executive Forum at the NSC Congress & Expo.

“Our challenge from an innovative standpoint is that we define safety incorrectly,” said Todd Conklin, human and organizational performance expert and advisor for Los Alamos National Labs. “What we do is measure safety success by counting the number of people we hurt. That’s stupid.”

Instead of reacting to incidents and injuries, Conklin recommends responding to contexts. Systems should be created in which employers know failure will occur, and then make that failure as safe as possible, he said.

Aaron Walsh suggested that allowing employees to repeatedly experience failure could help with safety training. Walsh, the director of the Immersive Education Initiative, expounded on the merits of virtual reality to better engage workers. Popular video games such as Skyrim and Mirror’s Edge place people in situations in which they must perform certain tasks that resemble lockout/tagout or working from height – gamers must succeed or face dire consequences.

These games and other similar training simulations immerse users in an environment. During Walsh’s presentation, a video screen showed a gamer engaging in a drowning simulation. The gamer quickly became exasperated as he struggled to stay afloat in the water.

“Watch his face. He knows he’s in trouble,” Walsh said as the gamer made mistakes that sent him under the water. “That was an authentic experience.”

And unlike real life, people using virtual reality training have the opportunity to safely visit the experience again and again to learn.

Sam Smolik, senior vice president for LyondellBasell’s manufacturing and refining operations in the Americas, brought things home by encouraging the setting of a positive culture – one in which employees will want to do things properly all the time.

“It's not about the numbers,” Smolik said. “It's about people.”