Jul 23, 2014

Weighing the Price of #Safety in OSHA’s New Video Game #OHS #EHS

The Baffler: In recent years, one of the most fertile markets for gaming technology has been training and education, with games being used to train people in everything from scooping ice cream to running disaster relief programs. With its Web-based game, the Occupational Safety and Health Organization (OSHA) has hopped on the wagon toward this new frontier in its efforts to help reduce workplace hazards. The stakes are high: a bad game, lacking impact and immediacy, could bore players instead of enlightening them. In the case of OSHA's game, the potential consequences are much more dire.

Titled the Hazard Identification Training Toolthe game was developed for OSHA by Etcetera Edutainment of Pittsburgh, PA. The game, which OSHA's website says is "aimed at entrepreneurs and managers," seeks to encourage owners of small businesses to identify and head off common workplace risks. It does so, however, within a curious context, telling them to make their safety improvements without cutting into their all-important profits. In fact, the game's instructions tell the player that the main goal is to "Maximize your profits in 20 weeks."

Framing the choices it offers players as mere financial cost-benefit transactions seems a peculiar decision for a regulatory agency, and it raises some significant questions about OSHA's role in the workplace. Should OSHA be teaching business owners that it's okay to avoid addressing potential safety risks, just to help the bottom line? The game's design appears to send the message to employers that profits are to be valued and preserved above all else. Here's the game's trailer:

The basic structure of OSHA's game is simple: in settings such as a construction site and a manufacturing facility, the player must find and fix as many potential safety hazards as possible, without overspending. Hazards can be identified in several ways: observing equipment and machinery in operation; "talking" with workers (though players don't get to read or hear these conversations); and reviewing operators' manuals and OSHA publications.

Each hazard the player finds is scored on a scale of one to five, for "severity" (how dire a physical threat it poses) and "exposure" (how likely the hazard is to cause an actual accident), and then assigned a dollar value for how much it would cost to fix. The player then has to choose which risks are worth paying to prevent, and which ones are not.

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