One of the problems with evaluating a working environment is that familiarity leads to assumptions about what is and is not a problem within your control room. Objectivity can play a big role in identifying small problems that, while easily and inexpensively fixed, are often overlooked by operators that see them every day. Over the years, we have identified several critical elements in control room operations that can have negative impacts on operators, but do not get fixed for any of a number of reasons. Three of the biggest reasons are a) people believe that they can adapt to the problem b) that the problem doesn’t really impact them or c) they attempt to solve the problem in the wrong way.
Consider the idea of distractions related to traffic. Excess or poorly organized traffic paths result in noise, distraction and interruption within the control room. Our Operational Observation process has determined that the average day shift operator has their attention pulled away from their work over 250 times per shift. That’s about once every three minutes. After an operator becomes familiar with this environment, they tend to believe that either they can adapt and/or that the problem simply doesn’t exist for them. Our process proves otherwise. Being forced to look away from your work 250 times daily greatly increases the possibility for a small problem to become much larger.
In our second example, operators sometimes modify their work area by moving or dimming lights that were creating glare or reflections on their monitors. While it’s true that this allows them to see more clearly, the change in lighting has now introduced a dangerous fatiguing factor into the control room. Solving one issue has created another because it was not addressed properly, and for those who work in the same room every day, it is very difficult to notice the effects as they compound.
These same principles apply to noise, sight-lines, operator inactivity, and poor operator adjacency. Putting up with issues or attempting to work around them often leads to a situation where they are simply not recognized for the potential they have to create both short and long term problems. Here are some of the common, easily solved issues that we find in many control rooms:
Traffic flow that increases distraction, stress, and fatigue
Poor lighting which leads to misinformation and fatigue
Noise which increases response time and decreases accuracy
Screen space that doesn’t allow for all needed data to be displayed
Poor operator adjacency which halts collaboration and information
Improper sight-lines to displays, information and people
Inactivity or stationary work that causes fatigue and health issues
This is why we believe that a simple control room audit from an objective observer can vastly and inexpensively improve results in an existing control room. Many of the problems that we find can be solved easily; it’s just a matter of knowing what the issues are.
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