**** This is the forth in a series by Keith Larson at Control Magazine on Operator Effectiveness ****
Human Factors in the Control Room
Instead of being designed with operator performance in mind, many control centers, control rooms and operator stations are designed without respect to human factors. Incorrectly planned environments intended for 24x7 use often are depressing, unwelcoming and uncomfortable at best—and at worst create fatigue and boredom.
Operators’ effectiveness is enhanced by optimal ergonomic and presentation technologies at the control console, including personalized climate controls, advanced keyboards with hotkeys, directional sound systems, integrated and adjustable lighting, and motorized/adjustable workstation configurations.
The larger control room layout should include a dedicated operations space that is free from distractions. A separate area for visitors should be provided so that non-essential personnel are kept out of the control area. A dedicated collaboration space should be provided for meetings and group troubleshooting, with A/V tied to control center visualization. Further, a relaxation area should be provided to help operators not actively engaged in operational duties to recharge without distracting on-duty personnel.
In addition to better decision-making by operators, this attention to human factors in the control room can help attract and retain new operators, reduce turn-over and even reduce workplace health issues.
Simulation Boosts Competence and Confidence
A closely integrated training environment makes it possible to train operators on simulators that behave essentially identically to actual plant systems, instilling confidence that they can respond correctly to abnormal situations when they arise. An integrated simulation environment also provides a platform for optimization studies and knowledge capture.
For a new plant, use of an operator training simulator can contribute to shorter initial start-up, enhanced operator performance as well as trip and incidence avoidance. It also allows the testing of operational procedures and the tweaking of display and control strategies before initial start-up, when changes are always easier and less risky to make.
Operator training simulators also are important to the effective operation of existing plants. Many high-reliability plants are having difficulty maintaining performance during turnarounds because workers deal with these procedures only infrequently. And the ongoing retirement of experienced operators has only made this situation worse.
While the direct benefit of using a simulator is difficult to quantify, a recent survey by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) indicated an average yearly saving of about $4,500 per megawatt of generating capacity. These savings are attributed to reduced training costs, improvements in plant availability, fewer environmental excursions and reduced damage to equipment. A bit of quick math indicates a three-month payback for a typical power plant, and begs the question: in what situation would you not invest in a training simulator?
**** Check back next week the results of Control’s Operator Effectiveness survey and to download the complete white paper. And as always, we look forward to your comments ****