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Operator Centered Control Rooms

What do all control room operators have in common? Technology advanced and the human factor was forgotten, but they all do the best with what they got.

Technology, in many cases, made life worse for operators. They work in a position where situation awareness is critical yet we keep adding screens and data thinking it will help the operators, in reality we are destroying situation awareness.

Different scenarios arise, so we address problems in silos, in doing so, we add solutions, more objects, more trends, more screens, more alarms, all of which serve a purpose at the time but slowly the operator is buried alive in data. Then you end up with what you have today, a control room that sucks for the operator.

Solution? Stop what you are doing! Take a step back. Now start from the operators responsibilities and tasks, from there – work your way out, use proven “operator centered”ergonomic and human factor solutions to design a user interface that achieves optimal situation awareness, starting with the displays, then the screens, then the console, then you can finally put the walls up. Think of it like this – human first, user interface, then the walls.

Key points to consider when addressing Control Room Performance:

Ensure the control room is staffed with the right number of operators, the workload is balanced between them, they have high performance displays that allow them to predict and prevent situations specifically designed to provide an overview of the most important safety critical process modes so they always know where they are, where they are going, and where they’ve been, and absolutely make sure they have effective alarms that provide guidance during abnormal situations. Key: Provides Guidance – alarms and displays should be an integrated solution for operator situation awareness.

You don’t overhaul the alarm system by removing alarms that don’t require action without providing that information in the displays using dynamic analog objects or providing that information in real-time in a way that the operator is aware of what is happening. Yes, alarms must require action, but operators use the alarms for information. If you take it away, you have to provide the info somewhere else. That is why display design and alarm rationalization should be linked together – addressing displays as you rationalize.

Once you have your displays, integrate the displays into the layout and placement of the operator screens, and then integrate the screens into the walls and into the consoles depending on what works best, then integrate the consoles into the design of the room as a fully integrated operator centered solution.

We have to stop placing new furniture and screens in the room, we need to assess operator tasks, then build the interface to compliment those tasks. Walls should be last.

An operator centered solution, does just that, centers everything the operator needs into an ergonomic work space, from the built in footrest to ergonomic lighting levels synchronized with HMI displays colors to keep the light levels up and on without glare.

UCDS offers 48 years of industrial process engineering experience specifically focused around the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium research for Operator’s – our goal is to reduce the amount of time it takes an operator to properly detect, diagnose, and respond when important events happen. Operators deserve a complete solution, applying ergonomics, situation awareness, and operational standards and management systems in the control room.