Virtual reality adds bite to dog safety training for postal workers

Posted on Sep 05, 2018

360°, VR & AR

A pilot project is using virtual reality (VR) to raise awareness among the UK’s postmen and woman about the risk of dog attacks. 

Royal Mail is working with leading digital learning company Sponge UK to harness the power of the immersive technology to highlight the hazards posed by dogs and how to stay safe. 

More than 40 postmen and women are attacked each week by dogs in the UK, some leading to a permanent and disabling injury.  The issue was highlighted this summer as part of Royal Mail’s annual Dog Awareness Week (25-30 June).

As part of a variety of initiatives on the topic, Royal Mail is piloting a short interactive VR experience to improve understanding and change perceptions around dog safety among its postmen and women.

Dr Shaun Davis, Global Director of Safety, Health Wellbeing & Environment at Royal Mail said: “As Royal Mail’s postmen and women deliver six days a week to around 30 million homes and businesses across the UK, the issue of dog attacks is a significant concern and one of our biggest hazards. With around 44 attacks across the country every week Royal Mail are always looking for a different way to approach the problem. This investment in new training for the frontline combines new technology and some of our traditional guidance to deliver the learning experience in a completely different way.  It gives the user the opportunity to experience the realism of an attack without any of the risk.  We are looking forward to monitoring the results of this training.”

The VR scenario places the user in the role of an experienced postal worker who is supporting a new colleague on her first delivery round.  The user must spot dog-related hazards and make decisions about how to keep their colleague and themselves safe.  During the experience, users learn about Royal Mail’s key messages on dog safety.  

Louise Pasterfield, Managing Director, Sponge UK said: “VR is a powerful solution for learning that is experiential in nature. It suits the challenge of dog safety perfectly because the user must make choices in a realistic environment. VR really brings the topic to life and we know from our own research that it can make learning more enjoyable as well as aid observational and decision-making skills.”

The training is available via a VR headset or as an interactive 360° video that can be accessed on a PC or laptop without the need for a headset. It’s being piloted in specific locations, before being rolled out across the rest of the UK later in the year.

James Barton, Online Learning Manager at Royal Mail, was bitten by a dog at work six years ago. He hopes the VR training will help his colleagues avoid a similar experience: “Like many of my colleagues I didn’t believed it could happen to me, but I put a customer's convenience ahead of my safety and paid the price. Virtual reality allows people to explore a realistic situation and make mistakes in a safe environment. I value the opportunity offered by VR to immerse people and remove outside distractions or peer pressure while they learn. At first, we thought VR would be too expensive to develop, but Sponge's approach brings the technology to a price point and timescale that is comparable with more traditional training.”

“VR is a powerful solution for learning that is experiential in nature."
Louise Pasterfield Sponge UK

During 2017-18 there were 2,275 dog attacks in the UK and while the overall number has reduced, Royal Mail is actively working to reduce the rate further, particularly in certain postcode areas where attacks are more common. 

“Royal Mail is leading the way in using VR learning to augment the guidance already available to postmen and women,” said Louise Pasterfield “We hope this creative and engaging experience will help to further raise awareness about dog safety and help to keep the nation’s postal workers safe from attacks.”

Read more about our virtual reality project with Royal Mail in The Guardian and The Sunday Times.

Virtual reality for workplace learning

An explorative pilot study