Virtual reality for the risk assessment of planned river locks

Project No. IFA 5122


completed 07/2013


Application of the Machinery Directive to river locks and boat lifts results in new requirements being imposed upon the planning and safe design of new installations or extensions to existing installations under the intended operational states. The expenditure for implementation is lower when measures required for the safety of the installation and for occupational safety can be considered at the planning stage rather than retrospectively. A dynamic planning model, by means of which different operational states can be analysed in the context of use, can be of assistance here.

For this reason, the German Social Accident Insurance Institution of the Federal Government launched a research project at the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA) with the co-operation of the German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV), Traffic Technologies Centre (FVT). Virtual reality (VR) was to be used to conduct a risk assessment for an extension to a river lock that at that point in time was still at the planning stage. Before starting with the construction works, this may allow for detecting and preventing potential risks such as lacking of interlocks for gates and signals in specific circumstances or safeguards for falls from heights. The potential support offered by a dynamic VR planning model and the associated constraints were to be determined. Finally, recommendations were to be derived for the use of VR in the future for such purposes, including in other application contexts.


A literature survey was conducted from which requirements were identified for a VR planning model. The requirements were adapted in project meetings held with the German Social Accident Insurance Institution of the Federal Government and a number of administrations and technical departments of the WSV, and applied to the example of an extension to a river lock. During the development of a dynamic VR planning model for a river lock in the context of use, (a) digital planning data from the FVT for the Kochendorf lock were used, (b) planning documentation such as drawings and documents from the ANH (the office of the WSV responsible for planning for river Neckar, Heidelberg) was considered, (c) photographs and film footage obtained during an inspection of the Kochendorf lock were used, and (d) reference was made to general information from the literature and from standards.

During the development work, a planning model was compiled from lock components (e.g. lock gate, lock chamber); moving objects (e.g. gate drives, signal systems) were animated; and the context of use (e.g. freight vessels, landscape) was created on a scale of 1:1 for presentation in the IFA's VR laboratory (SUTAVE). Future use scenarios were developed for operational states and traffic situations. Measurement tools to support risk assessments were integrated. The control of scenarios for inspections of the virtual lock was implemented.

The FVT outsourced the task of conducting the risk assessment of the virtual river lock in its future, extended form in SUTAVE. The outside company was supported in this task by the interdisciplinary project team. The extent to which VR is able to support performance of a risk assessment of complex installations was evaluated by the project team, and also by the outside company. In the process, consideration was given to development of a dynamic planning model with the aid of VR, and to performance of the risk assessment.


Performance of risk assessment of large-scale technical installations, in this case with reference to the dynamic planning model of a future river lock in the context of use, can be supported comprehensively by VR. The potential presented by the support together with the associated constraints is evaluated and documented from a range of perspectives of planning, modelling, assessment, production, and operation of the future installation. On the one hand, planning information that was previously fragmented can be integrated into one VR planning model, and the installation can be visualised with its full functionality in the future context whilst the planning process is still in progress. On the other, with the model, it is not always possible to eliminate weaknesses in the underlying planning information, and some hazards can be simulated in VR with only limited realism.

The project makes recommendations for action that will reduce the expenditure for similar projects in the future (e. g. advices, procedures and interfaces for an import of planning information into VR). Attention is also drawn to alternative forms of implementation. The measures for risk reduction derived from the risk assessment were integrated into a corrected virtual planning model, thereby enabling the future river lock to be simulated for further projects. It is intended to further investigate the support of risk assessment by VR for other installations at the planning stage.

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Financed by:
  • Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e. V. (DGUV)
Research institution(s):
  • Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IFA)
  • Unfallkasse des Bundes
  • Fachstelle der Wasser- und Schifffahrtsverwaltung für Verkehrstechniken (FVT)

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

questions beyond hazard-related issues, design of work and technology, unfavorable, adverse work environment


man-machine interface, machine safety, risk assessment

Description, key words:

virtual reality, risk assessment, risk analysis, hazard analysis, machine, shipping, water transport, lock, danger zones, evaluation, camera system, usability, human factors, ergonomics, human-machine interface, human-system interaction, design review


Further information