The use of virtual reality for OSH in standardisation of river lock

Project No. IFA 5135


completed 12/2018


The German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) and the German Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (GDWS) tasked the standardization committee with developing standardized objects for river locks on German waterways in the expert group responsible for locks on inland waterways. The intention was for costs to be reduced, efficiency and quality to be improved, and ultimately new construction, operation and maintenance to be structured. Occupational safety and health (OSH) were to be integrated into object standardization at the earliest possible stage in order for the requirements set out in the EU OSH Framework Directive, the EU Directive on Machinery Safety, and the EU Construction Site Directive to be considered preventively. This objective extended beyond mere evaluation of technical and functional safety requirements concerning standardized objects. The intention was for practicable measures to be generated and implemented that satisfy the requirements of both occupational safety and standardization on river locks.

Simulation technology such as virtual reality (VR) was to be used for the performance of risk assessments according to the EU Directives. The subject of the assessments are the individual standardized objects and their interaction in a river lock embodying a machine, a workplace and a structure, and in their context of use. The project was conducted by the Institute for Occupational Safety and Health of the German Social Accident Insurance (IFA) and further project partners, on behalf of the German Social Accident Insurance Institution of the Federal Government and for the railway services (UVB).


A literature survey was performed in order to compile OSH requirements relevant to the standardization of river locks. A VR model was then developed:

  • Existing planning data of standardized objects, for example filling and emptying systems, gates, drives, control technology, equipment and accessories, served as a basis and were supplemented where necessary. The objects were prepared for modelling by the Traffic Technologies Centre (FVT) within GDWS, assigned functions, and integrated into a VR model by the IFA.
  • The VR model was created such as to be able to model both the construction of the new Wanne-Eickel river lock on the Rhine-Herne Canal, Germany with a large number of standardized objects, and variants of a standardized lock.
  • Flowsheets of simulation scenarios were analysed, documented and integrated into the VR model for a range of operating states (e.g. normal operation), tasks (e.g. inspection) and contexts of use (e.g. removal of a gate segment by means of a crane).
  • A control arrangement for all applications was added to the VR model.
  • Use was made of experience gained with IFA project 5122, "Virtual reality for the risk assessment of planned river locks".

The development of the VR model was evaluated before it was used for assessments and implementation of OSH requirements. The IFA and partner bodies were involved in all phases of the project.


The project was conducted with reference to 150 work scenarios (e.g. upward passage, alternative arrangements for protection against collision with the lock gates, repair work on the machinery house), which were selected and described for the OSH assessments. All scenarios were presented or simulated for variants of standardized river locks by means of the dynamic VR planning model produced by the development. An external company was tasked by GDWS Hannover for the risk assessments and documents for future work, with reference to the VR planning model and to planning documents for further river locks. With the support of the project group, the external contractor determined hazards and risks in the IFA's VR laboratory and documented the results (such as a risk of crushing on the railings of the lower gate, insufficient consideration given to ergonomics during removal and refitting (repositioning) of the hydraulic cylinder). Measures were also developed and agreed for risk reduction (such as design changes to a flange plate, location of the side pond valve within the shaft), and modifications proposed for lock planning (e.g. avoidance of collision between the coupling plate on the hydraulic cylinder and the concrete surface below it, steps down to caverns and to the discharge funnel of the side pond, development of a safety concept to prevent falls during work on the heads).

These results were communicated to the planning offices and the standardization committee of the GDWS. With reference to the actual assessments, models were developed and trialled that are to be developed further for future invitations to tender, works and assessments by the GDWS (e.g. model risk assessment for locks in inland navigation) and by the UVB (e.g. guidance on risk assessment). The project work resulted in improvements to occupational safety and health on future standardized river locks. Where final assessments relate specifically to a real-case condition in the life cycle of a river lock, the assessments performed do not constitute a substitute for them.


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Last Update:

10 Apr 2019


Financed by:
  • Deutsche Gesetzliche Unfallversicherung e. V. (DGUV)
Research institution(s):
  • Institut für Arbeitsschutz der Deutschen Gesetzlichen Unfallversicherung (IFA)
  • Bundesministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur (BMVI), Referat WS10
  • Generaldirektion Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrt (GDWS), Dezernat W26, Anlagentechnik und Schiffbau
  • Expertengruppe "Schleusen im Binnenverkehr" der Standardisierungskommission der GDWS
  • Wasserstraßenneubauamt (WNA) Datteln
  • Fachstelle der Wasser- und Schifffahrtsverwaltung für Verkehrstechniken (FVT)
  • Fachstelle Maschinenwesen der GDWS Koblenz
  • Bauhof Herne des WSA Duisburg-Meidenrich
  • Bauhof Anderten des WSA Braunschweig
  • Unfallversicherung Bund und Bahn (UVB)
  • Berufsgenossenschaft Verkehrswirtschaft, Post-Logistik, Telekommunikation (BG Verkehr)

-cross sectoral-

Type of hazard:

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


man-machine interface, machine safety, technology design

Description, key words:

virtual reality, river lock, standardisation, 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