”Better control rooms must be pushed through with new rules”

Too much focus on technology and too little on the people who work with it. That is a general problem in control rooms, as shown by new research.
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Too much focus on technology and too little on the people who work with it. That is a general problem in control rooms, as shown by new research.

For two years a Swedish research team has studied ergonomics and work environment in control rooms. The results were published in the report, ”Engine Control Room – Human factors” at the end of last year and showed that technical equipment is not sufficiently user-friendly.

Monica Lundh
Monica Lundh

The seven ships that were studied were between six months and 30 years old, but many of the problems onboard were the same irrespective of their age. Illogically placed buttons and controls, alarm signals that are difficult to distinguish from each other and poor working stations for office jobs were common on both younger and older ships.
– What have improved are things such as noise, vibrations and heat. Ergonomics has been missed completely though, even though there is a lot of knowledge about how things should be designed, says Chalmers researcher Monica Lundh, who carried out the study together with representatives from SSPA and the World Maritime University.
Partly a result of computerisation
Problems in the control room arose partly as a result of computerisation. The previous analogue systems were adapted to standing positions and people walked backwards and forwards along the panels to execute different tasks. When the old instruments were replaced by digital screens people worked in a sitting position, but in the midst of all the changes designers forgot to adapt other instruments to the new working procedures. This resulted in poor working positions, instruments that were difficult to reach and a deficient overall view.
Not much has happened in planning of control rooms since this picture was taken, despite new instruments requiring different procedures and working positions.
Not much has happened in planning of control rooms since this picture was taken, despite new instruments requiring different procedures and working positions.

– If there are problems when making changes to a 30-year-old boat, I can understand the situation. But when you see exactly the same thing on a new ship there are no excuses, says Monica Lundh.
On the ship in the study there were a limited number of screens, often television monitors, which showed a large number of menus and submenus and you had to browse a lot to find the page you wanted to see. The researchers stated that there was a lack of consistency and uniformity in the presentation of information. Symbols, shapes and colours were used in different ways in different devices, which can create confusion and lead to faulty interpretations.
But the poor working environment in control rooms is not primarily due to a lack of knowledge, according to Monica Lundh. She believes that there is good information on how control rooms should be structured.
– We probably need more forceful regulations if we are going to see a real change. I believe that we should strive to obtain goal-based standards for control rooms which indicate what functions and work environment requirements must be fulfilled. And that is an issue which needs to be addressed internationally.
Linda Sundgren

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