Home · Blog · Control Room Design : Ergonomics: an essential tool for human-centred control room design
woman and man wearing high visibility vests looking at screen in control room operations

The design of a control room can have a significant impact on the safety and efficiency of operations. Control rooms are a critical central facility that typically involves the management of high-risk and/or complex plants, processes, and systems. Control room operators play a vital role in ensuring these facilities are monitored and maintained efficiently. Therefore, the way operators interact with every aspect of the control room and the control process must be at the core of control room design.  This introduces human factors (ergonomics) into the design.

The application of ergonomics and human factors engineering in the early control room design process can play an integral role in improving operator performance, comfort, and safety, as well as reducing the likelihood of human errors.  Ergonomics and human factors engineering not only considers the ‘hardware’ of control design; that is, the physical environment, but also the ‘software’ including task related and organisational processes with which operators and other end users interact.  

What is ergonomics and how does it help guide best-practice control room design?

Ergonomics, also known as Human Factors (which means “fitting workplaces, systems and products to people”), draws on scientific data about humans’ true capabilities and limitations, including physical, cognitive, emotional, social and environmental factors.  

Ergonomics and human factors in control room design and upgrades considers carefully who operates and supervises processes, their relevant attributes (size, shape), and when and how they use and interact with displays, controls and equipment in times of normal, abnormal, maintenance and emergency operations.

Data and methods from ergonomics gives important insights into how people see, move, understand, and sense their surroundings, and how they manage and respond to information, alarms, and abnormal states. It assists with fatigue control, vigilance, shift design, surveillance, and health. Ergonomics provides a structured method to analyse the relationships between tasks and operators and is an essential tool in designing functional control rooms, since it considers the breadth of human behaviour, size, strength, abilities, and limitations.

What are the key ergonomics principles that guide human-centred control room design?

  1. Compliance with key ergonomic standards and regulations

Layouts and equipment should be designed in accordance with applicable local codes and statutory regulations, including ergonomics codes and occupational health and safety and environment standards.

A commonly used International Standard dealing with the ergonomic design of control rooms is ISO 11064 (Part 1-7) which ensures all essential aspects of control room operations are considered.

  • Effective end-user consultation and engagement

Effective consultation and engagement with end-users in the design process from the outset will esatblish a collaborative and integrated human-centred design process. This should include all the different users, both primary and secondary, who will have regular interaction with the control room –  operators, supervisors, management, maintenance, and systems support personnel.

  • Consideration of different operator attributes

Applying ergonomics in the early stages of control room design includes consideration of different operator attributes including body size and strength and mental capabilities. This addresses who operates and supervises processes, their relevant attributes (size, shape), and when and how they use and interact with displays, controls, and equipment in times of normal, emergency, start-up and maintenance modes.

  • Comprehensive user, task, and equipment analysis

A comprehensive equipment and task analysis provides the baseline for the control room and console equipment layout design.

  • Role analysis: Identifies primary control room users and defines their roles, responsibilities, and staffing profile for different operational scenarios. This information is used to inform the control room layouts.
  • Task analysis: Identifies key issues on what information is needed and how it is used to support decision making and actions.
  • Equipment analysis: Identifies the primary equipment requirements for each of the roles in the control room. This includes frequency/importance of use, sequence andsimultaneous use. Storage requirements and other equipment and furniture requirements are also  identified. The analysis is used to settle console arrangements and  shared equipment requirements, including off-console visual displays (if relevant) so that sightlines and positioning can be determined.
  • Human-machine interface (HMI) and interface between the end users and the system

A well designed control room would consider not only the different human-machine interfaces (HMI), but also how the various interfaces between the end users and the system interact with each other. Hardware and software interactions that are intuitive and designed to support the user’s task will reduce the likelihood of human errors, and improve performance.  

  • Environmental factors: HVAC, lighting, acoustics, and noise

Environmental factors such as HVAC systems (Heating, Ventilating, and Air Conditioning), lighting, acoustics, humidity, vibration, air quality and noise can play an important role in operator performance and must be considered in control room design. For example, poor thermal environment, air movement or insufficient lighting and glare control can adversely affect operator performance and comfort.

  • Consideration of different operating conditions:  normal, abnormal, transitional and maintenance

The design should incorporate all the different operating scenarios including steady state operations (normal), plant upsets (abnormal), transitional states (planned start up and shutdown), maintenance, commissioning, and emergency response.  People react differently in various conditions. As control room operators’ tasks can be demanding, this can have a significant impact on how to use and interact with displays, controls, and equipment in times of normal and emergency situations.

Dohrmann Consulting have assessed and provided specialist advice on many types of control rooms throughout Australia and Asia. We have experience and capability both in ergonomics and human factors engineering involved in physical and process layouts.

Over the past 35 years, we have prepared, specified and participated in the design, layout, operation and/or upgrade of a broad range of control room environments including oil and gas, mining, emergency services, air traffic control, security, education, casinos, and prisons.

Discuss your requirements with an expert – obligation free.

You may also be interested in the following information and resources:

© 2014 Dohrmann Consulting. All rights reserved.