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Virtual Laboratory Accidents Designed To Increase Safety Awareness

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1999 Annual Conference


Charlotte, North Carolina

Publication Date

June 20, 1999

Start Date

June 20, 1999

End Date

June 23, 1999



Page Count


Page Numbers

4.593.1 - 4.593.9

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Paper Authors

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John T. Bell

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H. Scott Fogler

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 3613

Virtual Laboratory Accidents Designed to Increase Safety Awareness

John T. Bell, H. Scott Fogler Department of Chemical Engineering University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2136

Summary Safety rules are often disregarded in undergraduate laboratories, due to either forgetfulness or complacency. People remember experiencing (ÊnearÊ) accidents much longer and more vividly than written rules; however it is unacceptable to deliberately cause accidents just to emphasize the importance of safe lab practices. It is therefore proposed to develop a series of virtual reality based laboratory accidents, that will provide valuable learning experiences in the relative safety of computer labs and dormitories. This paper describes preliminary steps taken in this new project, and outlines future plans.

Background Laboratory safety is extremely important, particularly in undergraduate laboratories where students first develop practices and habits that they may carry with them throughout their careers1-3. Because this importance is widely agreed upon, all undergraduate chemistry and unit operations labs include some amount of safety training, encompassing at a minimum a long list of safety rules4 . These rules are often handed out on the first day of lab, along with the course grading policy, exam schedule, and instructorÕs e-mail and office location.

In spite of these precautions, however, accidents, near misses, and rule violations continue to occur. Two major causes for these continuing safety violations are forgetfulness and complacency, the latter of which can be considered as forgetfulness of the importance and significance of the rules, as opposed to forgetfulness of the rules themselves. The bottom line is that safe practices are not retained in students' memory as well as we all would like.

Those persons who have ever been involved in an accident, however, tend to remember their experience much longer and more vividly than any set of written rules. As a result, they tend to follow safe practice guidelines much more rigorously, in order to ensure that such experiences never happen again. One conclusion would be that if we could involve all of our students in lab accidents, then they would all follow safer lab practices in the future. Obviously, this is not an acceptable solution!

Virtual reality, (ÊVRÊ), on the other hand, strives to deliver highly realistic experiences through the medium of enhanced computer simulations5 . The ultimate goal of virtual reality is to produce simulations so realistic and believable that users cannot discern them from reality. Although that level of realism has not yet been achieved, (Êand probably never will beÊ), some VR simulations have achieved sufficient realism to produce physiological fear responses in patients undergoing phobia treatment6 . VR simulations are enhanced through high-speed interactive immersive three-dimensional computer graphics, audio spatialization, tactile and force feedback, cognitive and psychological effects, and special equipment such as head-

Bell, J. T., & Fogler, H. S. (1999, June), Virtual Laboratory Accidents Designed To Increase Safety Awareness Paper presented at 1999 Annual Conference, Charlotte, North Carolina.

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