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9 Principles of Ergonomic Control Room Design

1) Application of a human-centered design approach

The first step when designing a control room is having an understanding of the different elements that will have to work together to form a cohesive organization. The elements are the human component, the machine (hardware and software), the work environment, and the control (operation and management) which shall all be harmoniously integrated during all phases of the design process.

2) Integrate ergonomics in engineering practice

The second element to consider is that the idea of ergonomics should be integrated into the project before getting started. This means having the teams and experts in place to guide you throughout the process. For instance, ergonomics and its associated tools should be integrated into the project's management guidelines in order for the role of ergonomics to be taken into account by all designers and engineers involved in the planning, design, implementation, and operational audit of a control center. A project should be organized in such a way that integration of technical and ergonomic expertise is encouraged.

3) Improve design through iteration

Design processes are dynamic by nature. For instance, during the design of the control center, the client may ask for multiple designs of the floor plan and revisions of the approved floor plan often leaving out important elements along the way. The evaluation shall be repeated until the interactions between operators and designed objects achieve their functional requirements and objectives with ergonomics in mind. Establishing the validity of an individual element of the design in isolation does not guarantee that the assembled system will be validated. There shall be a formal process that defines and controls mechanisms and procedures for scope changes in the design of all aspects of the control center while keeping ergonomics in mind.

4) Conduct a situational analysis

For any ergonomic design activity, including refurbishment projects, a situational analysis of existing or similar situations is recommended. In this way, the functions of the future system can be thoroughly understood and anticipated beforehand. In other words, the people in charge of designing such a project should offer suggestions on the direction of the design and the consequences that can happen between the different alternatives. For example, taking into consideration the advantages and disadvantages of using a raised floor in a control room center. This also means of performing situational analysis may vary, but include task analysis, operator interviews, and incident analysis.

5) Conduct a task analysis

The tasks delegated to individual control room operators, and to other significant users of the control center, shall be fully understood. The analysis shall consider all modes of system operation including start-up, normal operation, shut-down, anticipated emergency scenarios, periods of partial shut-down for maintenance, the results used in the design process and the development of staffing plans. Some situations may require doubling or tripling staffing requirements and therefore shall be accounted for in the overall design such as the space between each workstation, the alleys, the number of operators per workstation, and the quality of the chairs being used for 24/7 applications.

6) Design error-tolerant systems

Human error cannot be totally eliminated. It is therefore necessary to strive for error-tolerant design. An important tool is the use of risk assessment for obtaining information on human error. For instance, if the project requires the use of height-adjustable consoles, consoles can be equipped with anti-collision sensors to avoid any injuries.

7) Ensure user participation

An important element to consider before starting the design and implementation of a new control center is the feedback of the current users and their pain points. User participation is a structured approach where future users are involved in the design of a control centre. User participation throughout the design process is essential to optimize long-term human-machine interaction by instilling a sense of ownership in the design. Experienced users can offer valuable empirical contributions to the control center design. Their practical experience is not always documented or well known by designers. Operational feedback derived from user participation should be analyzed to identify previous design successes and shortcomings.

8) Form an interdisciplinary design team

At Sustema, our team of consultants, industrial designers, and engineers work in collaboration with the different stakeholders of control room design projects. For instance, working hand in hand with architects, general contractors, design firms, installers, and so on. An interdisciplinary design team should be formed to oversee and influence all phases of the design project. Actual combinations of disciplines included in the design team may vary depending on the overall project scopes or the phase of design. This team may include system and process engineers, ergonomists, architects, and industrial designers. For existing systems, users or user representatives shall be included as members of the team.

9) Document ergonomic design basis

Develop internal documents that reflect the ergonomic design basis for the project, for example, fundamental reasoning or significant task analysis findings. The document should be updated whenever there is a change. An appropriate procedure should be developed for this process. In conclusion, the ergonomic design of a control room starts before a single plan is drawn out, it starts with the initial and cohesive mindset to create an ergonomic work environment from which all the subsequent elements will follow.

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At Sustema, we take pride in creating custom-built, modern, and ergonomic workspace solutions. With over 25 years of experience designing control consoles for clients across multiple 24/7 applications, we've come to understand the different elements that make a project successful. Contact us if you have any questions regarding an upcoming or current project at or through our website.


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