VR safety and hygiene protocol for the Athelstone School Study

The VR School Study has always been concerned with safe and ethical use of immersive technologies especially with children and young people, and in schools. We were the first to create safety resources and procedures for teachers and students and, in the age of the Covid-19 pandemic, we continue to make safety and hygiene the top priority.

Hence, we have developed a safety protocol and set of related resources to address hygiene and safety for VR headsets that use mobile phones – this is the type of equipment we are using for the 360° VR content creation that is the basis of the Athelstone Italian language learning study. The resources were developed for training primary (elementary) school aged children in Year 6 (11-12 years old).

Context always matters when assessing and addressing risk including VR use in classrooms, especially during a pandemic. When undertaking risk assessment and development of protocols and resources to mitigate risk for VR (or any equipment digital or otherwise), each school must address their local conditions, follow expert advice on hygiene and safety, and develop their own risk assessment, protocols and resources.

For the Covid-19 state-of-play in South Australia (SA), where Athelstone School is located, see the SA government updates here – https://www.covid-19.sa.gov.au/home/dashboard and the SA Department of Education website on Covid-19 here – https://www.education.sa.gov.au/supporting-students/health-e-safety-and-wellbeing/covid-19-coronavirus. Our protocol and resources were developed in August 2020 when the Covid-19 situation was reflected in the snapshot from the government website below:

Here is a summary of the risks identified and the proposed mitigation strategies developed in relation to context:

Potential riskMitigation strategy
Covid-19 transmission through student sharing of VR headsets and phones– Assign each student their own headset, box for headset storage and phone
– Label headsets, storage box and phone with the name of the student to allow students and teachers to monitor the use of personally assigned equipment.
– Teachers train students in not sharing headsets, storage box or phones and to always return headset to its assigned box.
– Reinforce safety and hygiene messages and procedure in class at the beginning of the lesson and with a poster displayed at the front of the classroom and with a laminated version on each desk.
– Teachers in-class monitoring that students use their assign headset and pack headset into assigned box.
– For the duration of the research no other students or classes use equipment.  
Lack of compliance with Education Department Covid-19 advice for schools  – Principal does daily online checks of Department’s Covid-19 advice for schools to ensure compliance and that the project’s risk mitigation strategies do not contravene advice.
Poor VR headset and phone hygiene– At the beginning and end of each lesson students wash/sanitise their hands.
– At the end of each lesson students use disposable sanitiser wipes to clean their assigned headset (except for lenses) and phone at the end of each lesson and return VR headset to its assigned box.  
Teacher handling of phone after it’s been sanitised may put them at risk  – Teachers use disposable gloves to collect phones from students and connect these to charging station.
Desk contamination with from VR headset– At the end of the lesson and after wiping their headsets and phones, students use sanitiser wipes to clean their desk and the laminated safety poster which is on their desk.  
Improper disposal of used sanitiser wipes and gloves– At the end of each lesson students dispose of used disinfectant/alcohol cloths in plastic bag that has no tears or holes in it and this is tied shut by teachers who dispose of it directly into school skip bin.
– Teachers dispose of used gloves in plastic bag that has no tears or holes in it and this is tied shut by teachers who dispose of it directly in to school skip bin.  
Students experience cybersickness– Students trained to recognise signs of cybersickness or discomfort and to immediately take headset off and tell teacher.
– The training message is reinforced on safety poster displayed in classroom with a laminated version on each desk.
– Students buddy-up to check on each other during use of headset.
– Limit of 15 minutes per lesson in headset monitored by teacher and student-buddy.  
Students move out of seat with VR headset on and injury themselves or others– Students receive training on staying seated while they have the headset on.
– The training message is reinforced on safety poster displayed in classroom with a laminated version on each desk.
– Students buddy up to make sure each remains seated and teachers monitor this in class.  

Here are the teacher-delivered safety and hygiene training script for students:

Here is the teacher safety and hygiene classroom procedure:

The ‘Be VR Safe’ poster for display in classrooms and on student’s desks is a child-friendly version of the safety and hygiene procedure outlined in the training script.

All these resources can be downloaded from the resources section of this website.

On a related note – Since the beginning of the pandemic, the VR research and industry sectors have been working overtime to define and address safe use of high-end VR (where the computing is in the headset) and although there is no definitive advice this article covers some of the issues –  https://interactions.acm.org/blog/view/evaluating-immersive-experiences-during-covid-19-and-beyond

Until next time, stay safe.

A/Prof Erica Southgate

Cover photo by cottonbro from Pexels

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