Authors: Pierre Bérastégui che ringraziamo

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The metaverse is a three-dimensional virtual space in which users can interact with objects and other users with the help of a digital avatar. It can be accessed by means of head-mounted displays (HMDs) that either fully immerse the user in a virtual world (i.e. virtual reality, or VR) or superimpose virtual elements onto the real word (i.e. augmented reality, or AR). The idea of a virtual space mimicking the real world gained traction in late 2021, when Facebook had rebranded to become ‘Meta’ and launched its metaverse ‘Horizon World’. After a promising start, the interest in Horizon World faded, prompting Meta’s competitors to revisit their marketing strategy. The emphasis is now on hardware – with the development of increasingly sophisticated AR headsets – whose purpose is decidedly more work-oriented (Bérastégui 2024). Major developers such as Apple and Microsoft are now positioning their immersive solutions as productivity tools. Meta has followed suit with the launch of its new HMD for business and professional users. Although practical work applications remain limited today, extended reality (XR) is now framed by GAFAM as the future of remote working and, as such, the next major evolution in the way we work. In this context, the anticipation and recognition of hazards arising from immersive workplaces that could impair the health and safety of workers is of critical importance. This technical brief aims to synthetise the available evidence on occupational health and safety risks associated with the use of XR (covering both AR and VR) technologies. To this end, a rapid review of the academic and grey literature was conducted, leading to the identification of five broad categories of hazards.

Physical hazards

Multiple studies have highlighted issues related to the distance between the eyes and the screens of HMDs. The screen is only a few centimetres from the eyes and covers a large proportion of the field of vision, greatly increasing exposure to light – especially blue light – compared to a traditional screen. The discomfort it causes, long known as ‘computer vision syndrome’ (CVS), includes headaches, dry, itchy eyes and blurred vision. A recent study showed that, in order to prevent these symptoms, a session should last no longer than 55 70 minutes (Kourtesis et al. 2019). A French survey has suggested that this limit is not always observed for professional uses, as the average length of a VR or AR session was shown to be 75 minutes when deployed in public spaces, 79 minutes for health care and rehabilitation purposes, and 66 minutes in walk-in immersive 3D environments (ANSES 2021).

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