HFE IN CONTROL ROOM CONSOLE DESIGN

An optimal console is tailored specifically to the tasks of the operator

Accident avoidance and operator health are the goals. Ergonomically designed consoles are the means to those ends.

Control room console design is a specific area of human factors engineering (HFE) that seeks to optimize the workspace in the immediate vicinity of the operator. A control room console unit consists of computer monitors, keyboard, communications equipment and other equipment essential to the operator’s task mounted on a desk or sit/stand workstation. The optimal configuration of these elements can have profound implications for the safety, health and performance of the people operating within mission-critical, 24/7 environments.

Control room console design employs a scientific approach to understanding the operators’ tasks so that the configuration of the equipment can be optimized to support the task actions required. Information needs to be in the right place at the right time with easily accessed control. It must take account of other factors such as lighting and how this might affect the information presentation on the screen. Line of sight and arc of reach are taken into account, with established primary, secondary and tertiary zones of placement according to task priorities. Attention to detail at this level was informed by the famous “cockpit studies” during WWII, where attack strikes where dramatically reduced by implementing the recommendations of experimental psychologists, who optimized the cockpit’s ergonomics and instruments to reflect the capabilities and limitations of the pilot operators. More recently, optimized console design in control rooms to maximize safety and human performance have been codified worldwide into ISO 11064 standards. The goal is total accident avoidance.

AVOIDING CATASTROPHE BY LEARNING FROM HISTORY

The need for the level of detail required to achieve that goal may be lost on the public at large, but nuclear meltdowns are not. The partial meltdown of the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island in 1979 could have possibly been avoided had critical screens been in the correct line of sight. One indicator was giving them incorrect information, and the operators therefore thought too much cooling water was causing a pressure release. A second critical indicator was not in their primary view, and was actually located behind them. So they manually overrode the cooling mechanism, shutting off the coolant. The result was a melted reactor core and the worst nuclear accident in US history. This is a dramatic and highly consequential instance of interface failure, but in any control room setting the stakes are very high.

ERGONOMIC SIT-STAND WORKSTATION OFFERS SIGNIFICANT HEALTH BENEFITS

Modern workstations need to encourage postural variation. According to the National Institute of Health, there is growing evidence that sedentary behavior is associated with negative health outcomes. The studies were controlled for, and were independent of, other physical activity engaged in by study participants. Results confirm that prolonged occupational sitting:

  • Has acute negative effects on metabolism
  • Is associated with greater cardiovascular morbidity
  • Is associated with chronic back pain
  • Promotes weight gain
  • Is associated with chronic diseases that result in premature death

Prolonged sitting can also promote fatigue and general discomfort. An adjustable sit-stand station is recommended by the National Institutes of Health to address these ill effects. The height-adjustable surface may be the entire desk or a retrofitted attachment that raises and lowers a computer screen, keyboard and mouse.

BAW Architecture has been at the forefront of HFE principles in control rooms for decades, incorporating best practices in control room design, including console design, before the ergonomic layout and dimensions of workstations were codified by ISO 11064. Our HFE experience includes 10 years at the ASM® Consortium, and our pioneering design principles eventually transformed control room design practices industry-wide. A scientific, operator-centric approach to console design has been at the core of our approach since our company’s inception. Contact BAW to learn more.

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