When an operator has to constantly make small adjustments to compensate for their own working environment, fatigue sets in more quickly. Worse yet, their attention may be pulled from their work at a critical moment. In a typical 12-hour shift, an operator is pulled from their work by distractions up to 400 times – most of these distractions are preventable. A tired or distracted operator is more likely to make errors, disrupting overall operations and potentially endangering personnel and property.
Inattention to acoustic design can have unintended consequences. Equipment, reflective surfaces, and operators positioned too closely together can raise ambient room noise to an unproductive level. When both the voices, and the ears of operators are straining to work over ambient noise for hours at a time, quality of work suffers. Operators in noisy control rooms are more likely to miss information, mis-communicate, or lose their attention due to interruptions and distractions. The extra effort required to stay focused in a loud environment can cause fatigue in the short term and possibly lead to burnout.
Control rooms can frequently become hubs for foot traffic, people seeking or providing information, and conversations not relevant to the operations of the room, producing noise and distraction. This problem can be worsened in critical and emergency situations, when a busy control room gets flooded with extra personnel at the exact time when it needs to be functioning at its peak. Aside from visitor traffic, poor traffic between operators contributes to fatigue, stress, and can also have significant impact on those working outside of the control room. A single misunderstood word at the wrong time (such as “go” instead of “no”) can have devastating results.
By far, one of the most critical environmental issues affecting the control room is lighting. Inconsistent light levels, low light levels, reflection and glare create an environment that can cause eye strain, eye and body fatigue as well as missed or misread information for the controller or operator. Even more disturbing is the health concerns published by the American Medical Association (AMA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) with regard to the exposure at night to the blue wavelengths in white light at nighttime.
Not all control room problems are in the control room itself. Most control rooms also lack sufficient support areas for operators who are working long shifts in high-focus environments. Without convenient access to areas for rest/recovery and exercise, operators often do not have the opportunity to stay at or restore to a high level of awareness.
If break rooms, restrooms, exercise and recovery suites, and lockers, etc. are available but not convenient to the control room, operators must either leave the control room for extended periods of time, or simply not utilize these tools. Either of these options would leave the control room personnel less prepared for a serious event.
Workstations are critical tools in a control room, and when the equipment is working against the operator, results suffer. Modern control rooms track a staggering amount of data in real-time, and the equipment needs to help operators/controllers process that information quickly and effectively. Screen size and configuration should be adequate to display all critical information as needed. A well-configured space will also enable teams to collaborate in real time with the least amount of disruption to the operators themselves.
In addition to their basic workstations, operators can benefit from other support equipment such as smartboard technology, handheld device integration, and visual collaboration. When control rooms lack these capabilities, the effectiveness of operators is greatly reduced.