Year

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Computing and Information Technology

Abstract

Most safety critical industries such as mining, rail or aviation aim to comply with Highly Reliable Organisation (HRO) standards. HROs have been defined as organisations that operate in hazardous conditions but manage to maintain almost error-free levels of performance. Accidents do not occur in isolation, they are usually the consequence of a chain of events ranging from the organisational level to unsafe acts of individual employees. Hence, it is of prime importance to design and deliver effective training programs that can not only expose workers to workplace hazards but also, and more importantly, ensure that this knowledge is adequately mobilised later on. The Australian mining industry has steadily achieved remarkable performance and safety results through the continuous improvement of its training standards. Virtual Reality-based (VR-based) training is the most recent technology used to enhance miners’ competencies in a safe and controlled environment that allows for replicable testing of extreme event scenarios. Like any other training method, VR-based training needs to be assessed in order to evaluate the advantages and limitations of this innovative technology, compared with more traditional approaches. Our research aims to design and implement an evaluation framework that can be used to assess VR-based training programs across four dimensions: (1) the actual training needs, (2) the limitations of traditional training approaches, (3) the theoretical capabilities of VR environments for training purposes and (4) the perceived learning outcomes.

Our research was conducted in collaboration with Mines Rescue Pty Ltd, a training provider for the coal mining industry in Australia, and focussed on training programs developed for mine rescue brigades. These brigades are made up of highly specialized volunteers who are the primary responders for major mining incidents or accidents. The study examined the relationships between the training needs of 372 trainees, the technological capabilities of two VR training environments (360-degree immersive theatre and a desktop interactive simulator) and the implementation of training scenarios over a twelve month period. Our mixed-method approach included direct observations of training sessions, pre- and post-session surveys of trainees and interviews (including competency tests) with trainers and VR program designers. The findings suggest that VR-based training programs are able to address the identified training needs and overcome some of the limitations and constraints of traditional onsite training. The study also highlights current weaknesses of the VR technology-in-use and suggests future enhancement pathways. The assessment framework is generic enough to be easily adapted for other training objectives in the mining industry or for other high risk industries.

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