If alarm management tends to place too much reliance on people, human factors explore the issues created by the fact that people are the most fallible part of a safety system.
Human factors typically include such areas as the design of interfaces and displays, lighting, noise management, staffing, safety-critical communications, ergonomics and, as already discussed, alarm management.
“In human factors, a key issue is that people are overloaded with information. When something goes wrong, the system is not well-enough designed to allow time for reaction. It doesn’t direct people where to look for the information they need,” says Chris Greaves, business manager at ABB Consulting. “While that is obviously relevant to alarm management, it also applies to the other human factor areas.”
As an example, Greaves says it’s common practice for work permits in a facility to be managed in the control room. “The argument is that if people want to get work done, they need to check in with the process superintendent.” The commotion related to issuing work permits can be a safety distraction to operators, Greaves argues, but he has seen instances where lighting was used to minimize the disruption, by darkening that part of the room where permits are issued when lighting is not required.
Other human-factor techniques can include providing different audible tones for different types of alarms, or automated redirection of lighting to focus on the correct displays during alarm bursts. Ventilation – maintaining a temperature that keeps people comfortable but alert – is a common challenge in many control rooms, Greaves says.
“As with anything, you can quickly get into a project that suddenly would have people writing large checks for fancy displays and ergonomic chairs,” he notes. “There are certainly times when this is justified and prudent, but if you’re talking about ways to improve operations and reduce safety risk, you simply cannot overlook these human factors. The control room is your last line of defense, and for many companies, it would be very easy and affordable to find multiple opportunities to change the environment in a way that helps the people who work there to do a better job.”
Check back next week for the fourth of the five ways. And as always, we look forward to your comments.