Common ergonomic errors in CCTV control room design

August 2005 CCTV, Surveillance & Remote Monitoring

The ergonomic design of control centres and control rooms is becoming an increasingly recognised part of the development of CCTV operations. One of the major themes reflected in ISO standards is the need for a design based on your specific operational needs, technology requirements, and work processes. This is probably one of the most serious shortfalls in implementing ergonomics in current control centre designs. Often not enough attention is paid to how the facilities should be organised around the work demands so the operator is able to carry these out in the most effective way. Ergonomics is often seen as a `cosmetic' solution rather than one that is based on actual work requirements. Besides this issue, I have highlighted some of the ergonomic problems I have encountered in the past below.

* Use of features that look good in other control rooms without linking it to the current design needs. Something that works well in one centre does not necessarily work in another centre. Borrowing ideas is useful if you do your own design properly, but imposing other designs without an appreciation of whether they really are appropriate can lead to major flaws.

* Monitors that are positioned too high on the console relative to the seating position of the operator. The operator literally has to recline in his or her chair or stretch his neck in a constantly uncomfortable position in order to view the monitors. Inevitably, attention to the monitor declines significantly after a few minutes or the operator suffers from health problems.

* Insufficient desk space for the controls that need to be used, with the result that operators have to constantly juggle different controls in order to operate the cameras, use communication equipment, and provide input to computers.

* Not designing ahead. For example, no slack in cables and as a result any movement of consoles is made extremely difficult. This principle also applies to expansions and technology upgrades to the console.

* Using a gloss varnish on a surface carefully selected to minimise light reflection.

* Cupboard space and drawers provided below the desk which cramp the operators leg space and hinder the placement of any additional personnel at the console. Not making provision for legroom is another similar issue.

* Provision for access to the equipment for upgrades and maintenance is not addressed properly and too little working space inside consoles is given for technical staff to work in.

* Controls being placed too high on the console so smaller operators have to get out of their seats to get to the controls.

* Not grouping monitors appropriately. Monitors that have no relevance to each other are grouped together. Monitors next to each other also have contrasting brightness of the scenes being displayed resulting in strain in viewing these. A long single line of monitors, which have to be viewed by one operator whose only option is then to walk up and down in order to view all the displays.

* Obstructions in line of sight from the seating position to monitors, resulting in the operators having to stand up or lean sideways to view some monitors.

* Monitors too close or too far away for effective viewing. Alternatively, the incorrect monitor sizes being used for the purpose they serve or for the design of the console.

* No provision made for disabled access, including desk height and space for wheelchairs.

* Excessive glare on screens or working surfaces created by sunlight or inappropriate artificial lighting.

* Ventilation systems creating a direct draft onto the operator's seating area creating greater chances of the operator getting sick, particularly if the temperature is not adjustable.

A key part of getting the ergonomics right for a situation is initial planning. This planning needs to be done with the control room manager, engineers, operators and human factor specialists. The discussions that come out of this planning will resolve many of the issues up front and lead to a more ergonomic environment and more effective people and systems.

Dr Craig Donald can be contacted at Leaderware on 011 787 7811 or


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