Ergonomic standards in control rooms.

October 99 Surveillance

An International conference on human interfaces in control rooms ,cockpits and command centres that I presented a paper at recently had a strong focus on ergonomics.One of the presentations by John Wood,was on why there is a need for an international standard for control rooms. Wood is the Managing Director of CCD Design and ergonomics and is one of the foremost specialists involved in the ergonomic design of control rooms in the UK. He made the point at the beginning of his presentation that in too many instances ,ergonomics is something that is added on towards the end of a CCTV programme.As one of the presenters said,"you can't paint on ergnomics afterwards.

All too often, the initial development of a control room is based on finding a wonderful technology system rather than a total management solution. The talk is about finding equipment with particular specifications, how good the pictures are, and making sure that the technology interfaces work. After defining a state-of-the-art system and stating how it is going to be implemented, managers then look around at how to make it ergonomic. At this time the ergonomic specialist or human factors engineer is called on to ensure that people can use it - something Wood refers to as remedial ergonomics. After some intense (and sometimes tense) discussions and questioning of a number of assumptions about the equipment and how it can be used, management either decide to change the system or, sometimes, to live with its shortfalls. In the latter case, Wood notes that it seldom lives up to expectations and specifier, installer, user and ergonomics specialist all feel shortchanged.

Adopting a 'top-down' approach

For Wood, a top down approach involving a human factors specialist needs to be adopted. This starts with an appreciation of the system objectives, followed by a definition of the control room objectives within that framework. The role of the operator within the system is then determined by using a baseline which understands the actual limitations which we all have in such matters as short term memory, absorbing information simultaneously from multiple sources and periods for which we can apply maximum vigilance. It is this approach which results in designing meaningful jobs which can actually be successfully completed by control room staff.

Workflow, information processing requirements, clear role definitions and functional lines of supervision are also required, together with an appropriate team-based atmosphere. The technology systems must be developed in conjunction with this human factors approach, as the way the technology is to be implemented is as important as the actual technology itself.

"After defining a state-of-the-art system and stating how it is going to be implemented, managers then look around at how to make it ergonomic. At this time the ergonomic specialist or human factors engineer is called on to ensure that people can use it - something Wood refers to as remedial ergonomics."

ISO standard for control rooms

An ISO standard (ISO 11064) is currently being developed as an industry wide basis for dealing with the ergonomics and environmental design requirements of control rooms. Wood, who is closely involved in the development process, notes that the standard currently in development recognises that specialised tasks take place in these environments and that task design and working environments need to support the activities being undertaken.

A control room may be a single room or a series of rooms, functionally linked or even a suite of rooms which support the control function. To address the issues within control rooms across a range of industries and technological advances, the initial parts of the standard deal with general principles of good ergonomic practice within a control room. Later parts of the standard recognise that there may be particular operational requirements or equipment that may affect the nature of the control room and that these should be accommodated within the standard.

"The ISO 11064 standard is still under development and all eight parts will take some time to complete. Underlying this standard, however, is the recognition that it is management solutions that are required for CCTV system projects and not just great technology."

I have summarised Wood's discussion of parts of the standard, to outline the scope of what is to be covered in the standard.

Part 1 - Principles for the design of control centres

This part provides an overall framework for the application of an ergonomic approach in the planning and design of a control centre. It also directs the user to other parts of the standard.

Part 2 - Principles of control suite arrangement

Ergonomic issues relating to the layout and planning of functionally related groups of rooms or spaces within the control room are outlined in this part.

Part 3 - Control room layout

These parts cover the layout of individual workstations, groups of workstations and the disposition of these workstations in a control room.

Part 4 - Workstation layout and dimensions

Part 5 - Displays and controls

This part, which will pay reference to existing standards where relevant, will include special sections on CCTV ergonomics and off-workstation overview displays.

Part 6 - Environmental requirements for control rooms

Environmental matters such as noise levels, lighting, interior design and thermal issues are covered in this part.

Part 7 - Principles for the evaluation of control centres

The evaluation of the control room at both the design and completion stages are covered in this section. Preferred techniques to be adopted will be spelt out.

Part 8 - Ergonomic requirements for specific applications

This part deals with particular types of control rooms where specific operational demands or equipment may apply, including air-traffic, offshore operations, security etc.

The ISO 11064 standard is still under development and all eight parts will take some time to complete. Underlying this standard, however, is the recognition that it is management solutions that are required for CCTV system projects and not just great technology. A full project management approach calls for extensive contact from the beginning with management, designer and supplier and parties with a human factor perspective. This contact would include discussions on the kind of control room environment and the nature of work interfaces management wants to create, the way in which work is to be organised, how information will be processed, the management style and climate that they want to encourage, the kind of people they want working there, and the nature of the broader relationship of the control room with outside parties with whom the control room personnel will interact with. The initial three parts of the standard are currently in draft form and I will outline some of the key points contained in these in the next article.


Wood, J. Why do we need an international standard for control rooms? People in control: An International Conference on Human Interfaces in Control Rooms, Cockpits and Command Centres: 21-23 June, 1999, Conference Publication No. 463.

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