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Two Types of Errors created by poor Control Room Design

Not all aspects of poor Control Room Design are immediately noticeable. I frequently encounter issues with the design of a control room that result in two types of errors: Immediate Errors and Fatigue-Related Errors.

Immediate Errors

Immediate Errors are usually more apparent, though they may stay hidden until there is a critical event. They are exactly as labeled: immediate. These problems, such as an operator not being able to get the information they need fast enough, may pass without much notice once the situation has returned to normal. Improper sight lines, too much noise, poor lighting, interruptions, insufficient amount of display screens, distractions, etc., are typical causes of “immediate” errors. 
How do these immediate errors manifest themselves? Missed alarms because of a crowded and noisy control room, misreading data because the text on the screen is too small or too far away, slow response due to inefficient workflow and poor sight lines. In these cases, there are immediate safety concerns that can be very serious, but they can be quickly forgotten as well.

Fatigue Related Errors

Many of these same elements – as well as more complex issues – can cause operator fatigue over time, which leads to Fatigue-Related Errors. In these cases, a small issue has a cumulative effect over time, creating a situation where the operator is consistently less effective than they should be. Once an operator is fatigued, they are more likely to miss information, misread and/or misinterpret information, communicate poorly, be slow to respond or not respond at all. This effectively degrades the safety for the entire operation in a way that is hard to detect. Fatigue-Related Errors are especially dangerous, because they don’t appear consistently. The effects of fatigue will vary from person to person, from day to day, making them difficult to predict without careful diagnosis. This element of unpredictability is the exact opposite of effective control room process.
Over the next few months, we will look at several common, error-inducing elements that exist in the control room, from both the standpoint of Immediate Errors as well as Fatigue Related Errors. Some of these simple, everyday occurrences may be a surprise as we examine the potentially large effects of small issues on long-term operation.
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-Steve Whitley is the founder of Design Matters and has more than 20 years of experience in 24/7 Mission Critical room layout, design and outfitting. His “100 Critical Elements” method of Control Room Design goes well beyond the ISO 11064 standard, providing safety, consistency, and effective operation in the control room.

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