Ergonomics, take into account an operator's interaction with his or her working environment, play an important role in the design of control rooms. Currently, the government has left the implementation of ergonomic principles up to industry to regulate. However, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other standards-based organizations are beginning to address ergonomic concerns in the workplace. OSHA believes that the proposed regulations are needed to protect employees from incurring work-related injuries resulting from improper work environments. Under the proposed OSHA regulations, companies are required to invest resources in new equipment design and in redesign of current equipment to bring their workplaces into compliance. Some sources estimate that companies will spend more than $21 billion to alter workplace environments to comply with the regulations.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) also has proposed standards concerning the implementation of ergonomics in the workplace. Specifically, ISO Standard 11064, parts 1 through 6, sets forth practical guidelines for the implementation of ergonomics within the control room environment. Current design solutions must take into account these regulations and standards, because when formalized they will become standard practice. Thus, the pending ergonomic standards will seriously affect the design of future control rooms. New control rooms are expensive; better get it right the first time.
Ergonomics involves the interaction of human factors (the physical and mental capacities and limitations of the worker) with the machines and equipment in the work environment. It requires an understanding of all aspects of how employees function and how they interact with various tools and systems when performing tasks. With this understanding, those tasks can be performed in a safe and efficient manner. For example, new knowledge about repetitive stress injuries has modified how we now design keyboards. Adding wrist supports and eventually changing the layout and arrangement of the keys will reduce incidents of carpal tunnel syndrome. As another example, the design of operator seating now takes into account human postural variations and height differences. By supporting the back, legs, and arms, chairs now enhance alertness and productivity.
The underlying principle of ergonomic design is to promote worker health and safety. This makes economic sense because improving working conditions in the control room correspondingly can affect operator performance, productivity, and overall job satisfaction. These factors translate into reduced absenteeism and higher plant productivity. Additionally, more emphasis on workplace safety results in fewer incidents of injury and accident, thus reducing worker's compensation and insurance costs for the company. The design and selection of the control console demonstrates the advantages of ergonomic design. Console operator productivity and safe operation of the plant depend on careful consideration of the selection, layout, and design of the tools provided to the operator. The operator's tools for controlling the plant—the keyboards, work space, and monitors, e.g., the console itself—should be of utmost importance in the design of the overall control room.
You should not implement console selection in a haphazard manner or without input from the end user. Ideally, it should be incorporated as early as possible in the project's design phase. The ergonomic principles used in console design influence the layout of the operator's work space, the location of visual displays, and the size, shape, and placement of the individual console relative to those displays. Good ergonomic design principles also consider how the console relates to other aspects of the control suite, such as lighting, room layout, access, egress, and ventilation of the room. Failure to implement ergonomic principles in a timely manner affects all of these things and can affect the overall cost and efficiency of the control room.
Ergonomics is a broad concept that covers all aspects of the human-machine interface in a work environment. To apply ergonomics to console selection, you first must understand what tasks a human performs and what principles of ergonomic design come into play in the performance of those tasks. Ergonomic console selection begins with a thorough task analysis. A task analysis is a detailed study of how operators perform the various components of their jobs and how they interact with others and with the machines and equipment that are used to perform the job. Task analysis includes but is not limited to the following considerations: workload, task load, corporate culture, situational awareness, and communication.
Once you have thoroughly analyzed the tasks that each operator undertakes, use general principles of ergonomic design to determine the safest and most efficient methods to maximize human performance. Proper ergonomic design of a control console takes into account the operator's body postures, movement, and visual comfort. Environmental factors, such as ambient noise and illumination levels, are also considered. The goal of a properly selected, ergonomic console is to reduce operator stress and to enhance alertness at all times so operators can remain focused on their tasks. The following principles are of use in the selection of ergonomically designed control consoles.
We are the only company that offers an ergonomic console specification document where we identify the user requirements through a task analysis study and develop a user-centered specification that allows our customers the advantage of evaluating multiple products by giving the furniture vendors a spec that meets the users' needs. This way our customers don’t have to customize off the shelf solutions and hope and pray that the end product will work. By identifying the users' requirements up front you can be assured that you will end up with exactly what your operators need. This also allows you to compare apples to apples when evaluating furniture from multiple vendors.
It's all about the user. Many operators work long shifts. Fatigue, health, injury, and situation awareness are key factors that should be understood. The control room environment and furniture must enhance the user's experience and must enhance situation awareness. As you begin your research on what control room furniture is right for your particular environment and budget, you should focus on the user requirements, situation awareness and human factors. We have over 40 years of experience, dealing with every possible type of mission-critical environment in all industries. We developed a unique methodology that addresses the user requirements. We have human factors experts with the capability to assess your unique operational and environmental requirements to create solutions that exceed your ergonomic, equipment, budgetary and aesthetic needs.
You may have noticed that you have a lot of choices when it comes to control room furniture and console furniture. Stay focused on the user and their roles, jobs, tasks, and need for a healthy working environment that promotes vigilance and combats fatigue. Educate yourself on the ISO 11064 standard. The design standard will guide you as you address each user requirement and will assure that the workstation design, controls and displays create the basis of compliant control room furniture.
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