Alertness and fatigue. A console operator at a modern plant is expected to be awake, alert and ready to take decisive action at a moment’s notice. However, we frequently provide working conditions that actively work against this goal. Are light levels kept low? This is often done to combat glare on the DCS screens, which is caused by poorly designed lighting systems, or to reduce the eye strain caused by black DCS-screen backgrounds. Is the ventilation poor, causing extreme changes in temperature? Are the air vents filthy and is the air quality poor? Do schedules allow, or even require, operators to work excessive overtime and consecutive days so that they can’t get adequate rest? All these issues create, at best, an uncomfortable environment and, at worst, one that causes the operators to be drowsy and inattentive.
Don’t expect a simple answer
At the beginning of this article we arrived at that common plant management question: “What’s the right number of operators for our facility?” The simple answer to that question is that there is no simple answer, no effective short-cuts, and no guidelines that can be safely applied.
Reducing staffing levels should be viewed as a long-term, continual process. You can start by identifying areas that can be improved to facilitate staffing reductions. Then implement changes in those areas as resources become available and follow that up with feasible reductions. Almost all plants can achieve a reduction in staffing levels, but attempting to make a significant reduction in personnel without addressing other areas of concern might be difficult and possibly create a dangerous situation.
Ian Nimmo is president and founder of User Centered Design Services, Anthem, Ariz., a firm that specializes in abnormal-situation management, alarm management and other control issues. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. John Moscatelli is the managing partner of User Centered Design Services. E-mail him at email@example.com.
1. Contra Costa County Ordinance No. 98-48 and amendments from 2000-20 Industrial Safety Ordinance (1998).
2. Brabazon, P. and H. Conlin, “Assessing the safety of staffing arrangements for process operations in the chemical and allied industries,” contract research report for the Health and Safety Executive (2001).
3. Parker, S.K. and H.M. Williams, “Effective teamworking: Reducing the psychosocial risks,” HSE Books, Norwich, England (2001).