Cameron describes all the essential factors that need to be taken into
account when designing safe, comfortable and effective control rooms.
on a petrochemical site, air traffic control tower, nuclear power
station, fire station, police station or a TV recording studio, the
control room lies at the heart of the operation.
The control room
operator performs a particularly demanding role in monitoring
increasingly complex automated systems, where the consequence of error
is potentially devastating. Control room ergonomics are therefore
optimised to minimise the risk of human error.
The design of the
control room must be seamlessly integrated from the outset. Whether part
of a new building or the upgrade of an existing structure, the major
factors that are taken into consideration include the following:
1. The control room and its operators are considered as a whole system.
2. The suitability of the structure of the control room to withstand possible major hazards events.
3. The arrangement of the numerous functions and activities within the control room.
4. The arrangement of display screens and equipment as required by a functional analysis and ergonomics standards.
Control room structure
rooms on petrochemical sites vary extensively in both size and
location. The consequences of hazards on these sites can be devastating.
The building structure must be designed to ensure that the potential
hazards to the control room occupants are within acceptable limits, and
are suitable for maintaining control of the plant systems both during
and immediately following an incident.
Ensuring the control room’s
suitability will include designing the primary structure to withstand
the impact of a maximum predicted reflected blast overpressure.
Materials are also carefully specified to ensure they are fire resistant
for the duration of any possible fire event.
elements that are carefully considered and designed to ensure the safety
of occupants include the location and size of windows and minimising
plant equipment on the roof. Internal fixtures are also designed to
withstand vibration or movement generated by a hazard incident to
prevent injury to occupants.
Control room layout
performance is hugely impacted by the design of the working
environment. Even the most highly trained operator is subject to human
error and slow response as a result of a poor control room environment.
Human factors considerations are therefore integrated early into the
design, commissioning and operation of the control room under both
normal and abnormal plant operating conditions.
The control room
arrangement must be designed to international and best practice
standards to create an environment that minimises disruption to the
operators, improves alertness and comfort and provides the required
areas for each function.
The combination of, and interaction
between, people and equipment can determine overall operator comfort,
which is why considering the control room and its operators as a whole
system is important.
For example, display screens positions are
optimised for maximum comfort and to ensure that critical information is
located within an operator’s ‘primary display zone’ and that controls
are positioned within intuitive reach. These considerations contribute
to an environment that enables operators to remain alert throughout
their shift and to be responsive to alarms and potential incidents.
Key elements of control room design include the following:
- The control room layout must be derived from an appropriate task
analysis to ensure the user requirements for movement patterns are met.
- Necessary lines of sight and communication are uninterrupted to aid team working.
- Location of the control room within the building must be considered
to minimise unnecessary movement through the control room.
Temperature, airflow and lighting are adjustable to suit individual
preference and external factors. Adjustable lighting to replicate warm
and cold light can assist the operators to maintain regular body
- The acoustic environment is considered to ensure clarity
of communication and noise is kept to optimum level without prolonged
low or high frequency noises.
- The design of the Human Machine
Interface must be based on a full task analysis to ensure no over or
under arousal of mental workload when dealing with specific tasks.
- Any alarms in place should be clear, based on existing conventions and not be confused with other alarms.
The anthropometry of the control desks, panels and seating should suit
operators and be suitable for 24 hour use to avoid problems with
ISO 11064 Ergonomic design of control centres part 1 to 7
sets the standards for the design principles of any control room. The
document is one of the key tools utilised to ensure the design of new
control rooms and the refurbishment of existing control rooms, to
provide the appropriate environment to support the high pressure role of
the operator and to minimise the risk of human error due to poor design
design is required, with modern systems providing operators with
immediate control, even integrating touch screen technology. The
methodologies, for both structural design and ergonomic requirements,
can and should be applied to all control rooms where maximum operator
comfort and alertness is paramount to minimise human error and response
By Jet Cameron, an architectural team leader at IKM Consulting.
This article was first published in issue 522 of The Ergonomist, December 2013