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Poor situation awareness

What should you do when faced with two proposals one from an architect that says he does ergonomics and one from an architect who has a partnership with Human Factors provider? Obviously price will be a compelling factor; however, project costs and life cycle costs may show a very big difference.

Most companies today are aware of many of the issues!  These include bad lighting, poor people traffic flow within and around the control room, bad room adjacencies, poor console adjacencies, poor ergonomic design of consoles, missed rooms, rooms wrongly sized?

In fact, these are just some of the common issues; the real problems that may not be obvious but cause many of today’s operations problems and have led to far too many accidents are not identified in the common list above.

Some of the problems have been identified in catastrophic accidents, like the Shell Stanlow disaster, and are recorded as technical failures.  Vital process information, in this case reactor pressure, was not displayed on the VDU the operators were using at the time.  Had this been available they would have been able to detect an abnormal rise in pressure sooner and possibly in time to take corrective action.  Control Room Design: human factors.

Or the Texaco Pembroke Disaster, or the Esso Longford disaster, these alone should have taught us some lessons in control room design.  But as my old friend Trevor Kletz has written and talked about for so long, “Why Accidents Keep Happening” and “Computer Control and Human Error”.  So we keep having problems and along come BP Texas City with similar issues and another major catastrophic accident.

If we are to design out these issues we as an industry can’t keep going to unqualified people to do our designs, to people who have never heard of these incidents and don’t understand what caused and how to prevent these issues.

All of these accidents had one common problem, poor situation awareness.  So, how do we design for good situation awareness?  The answer is quite simple; utilize experienced engineers who have the background in control room operations, alarm management, HMI design, ergonomic design and layout of consoles.  If the designer cannot provide you with a detailed explanation and plan for implementing the International Standards ISO 11064 Ergonomic Design of Control Rooms they have no right doing the design.

We currently have a regulator that is uneducated, understaffed and ignorant of best practices, and even GEP in this field.  Even if the regulator did have a clue they have no power to turn the tide.  OSHA has had an Ergonomic Standard in Draft form for over a decade and can’t get it passed the legislature.  In fairness to them they have issued situations against the draft standard, but that is not very often.  To look to Government as to how and what to do is not going to solve these problems.

Our trade associations are too politically correct to call a spade a spade and insist on calling it a safe shovel.  The result is an industry that is continuing to spend over $20 Billion Dollars on Abnormal Situations and losing Billions on lost opportunity and performance improvement.

The sad fact is it does not cost anymore to do the job right in the first place!  We so often get called in to correct badly designed control rooms which have a life of over 40 years in our industry and the poor folks that are having to cope with these sad designs are suffering from all sorts of stress, health problems, fatigue and are designed to set up  operators to fail.

I was pleased to see the Pipeline Industry actually start addressing these issues through the PHMSA initiative.  Well done DOT!  We will be announcing a new partnership to address this opportunity.  Check back soon in our announcements section.

As far as work is concerned, Dave has been busy on High Performance HMI designs and looking at refinery staffing to help an existing customer update their model for operator workload based on some new equipment and organizational changes.

I have been working on a lot of new business opportunities and I travelled with Dave to one of our customer sites in St. Croix, a place we love to go to, a great customer with some great opportunities, nice weather and a nice place to visit.

We have two speaking engagements this month, we will be at NPRA presenting a paper on “Why Operators Keep Failing and the DCS must Change”.  I will also be the Keynote Speaker at the Curvaceous Software TAP customer forum on the 25th March.