The need for more human-focused control rooms

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The need for more human-focused control rooms

Control rooms are incredibly important to any large organisation or manufacturing plant. These rooms are fully equipped with expensive equipment and the latest systems and controls to help operators monitor and control workplace operations from a more secure place, overseeing everything that is going on. In order to have a control room that runs smoothly, with operators who are engaged, companies need to spend more time on the design and layout of the room to ensure that it’s safe and healthy for operators.


Here are the risks that need to be considered:


  • Control rooms need to be centred around employee health

Control rooms are where staff sit for hours (and sometimes even work through the night) to keep watch and make sure that everything is running smoothly. These roles are extremely important and require individuals to be awake and alert for any event that could put the company in danger. Since these roles have become more specialised requiring operators to make use of highly advanced technology, many people aren’t able to perform the tasks properly because they haven’t been trained.

This means that employees have to work long, overlapping shifts that cannot be swapped out with other employees. These long shifts can easily result in fatigue if the layout of the control room is not conducive to their health. There are strict rules that need to be followed when designing a control room, as furniture needs to allow for comfort and should not be hazardous to any employee. These rooms should be designed in such a way that you can move around and take a quick break when necessary.


The more technically advanced and the bigger control rooms become, the more difficult it is for operators to keep up to date with management through regular face-to-face communication. Why? Because more companies are placing their SCADA control rooms far away from regular operations that it isn’t practical for management to attend a conference, focus on the floor and monitor the entire company’s operations at the same time. With everyone being busy, the lack of communication quickly opens up a door for miscommunication and loopholes, because employees are not trained enough to detect, diagnose or respond to events fast enough and in real-time. This affects the efficiency of control room activities.


  • Procedure and policies need to be in place

In order for operators and control rooms to perform according to plan, there needs to be proper procedures and policies in place. Companies need to understand that something that worked well 10 years ago will not work well today. In-depth, descriptive procedures will help operators perform tasks without having to rely on guesswork to do the job. And, on that note, these procedures constantly need to be adjusted and tweaked to maximise the full potential of the room’s operations. If there is something that is affecting the wellbeing of the control room operator, it needs to change.


  • Professional training should be required for any operations

Gone are the days where anyone could sit in a control room and do the job. To work well in this department, it requires skill variety, task significance, task identification and regular feedback. In the case of an emergency, operators need to know how to react to these serious (and often terrifying) events, and they need to be able to deal with the outcome in a specific way. On-the-job training is ongoing and needs to be focused on by management in order to make their establishment as efficient and secure as possible.

It is important for companies to provide the correct knowledge, training and skills to teach operators the ropes and the correct methods to maintain competence. Again, technology is changing everything, making it even more important to keep up with the latest digital challenges and requirements.  


  • The need for guided supervision

Because these teams have become so small and specialised, people tend to forget about them and think that they don’t require supervisors to assist them in their performance. Not only that but because these new positions require training that some supervisors do not have, they cannot assist anymore.

Another challenge with bigger companies is that the control room is usually far away from regular operations, which makes it increasingly difficult to have supervisors check in on operators on a regular basis. For example, if their office is located far from other employee activities, it will make it difficult to monitor all areas effectively without having to compromise on other, more important tasks.


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