Study Evaluates Effectiveness Of Warning Symbols

Jan. 25, 2017
Current consumer product guidelines may not apply to process plants.

The Center for Operator Performance has completed a feasibility study with Dr. Camille Peres of Texas A&M University Health Science Center (TAMHSC) to evaluate the effectiveness of warning symbols in procedures. Using a virtual environment, compliance with safety instructions was evaluated for different symbol designs and different populations. Trainees were asked to complete various one-page procedures in a virtual warehouse environment, with each procedure having a warning box with a description and a symbol for the nature of the hazard, the risk to the worker and/or the safety measures that should be taken. Compliance with the safety steps varied with each procedure, but it did not vary with the warning symbols utilized. The symbols and use of the box for the warning are based upon recommendations for warnings developed for consumer products, which may not be appropriate in other applications.

The study reportedly demonstrates the potential to test improvements in procedure design. While subjects had few errors in the tasks they performed, they often were not able to complete the procedure in the allotted time. More importantly, according to the organization, up to 40% of the subjects failed to heed the cautionary statements (e.g., put on PPE) in some procedures. Future work will examine both the formatting of the procedure as well as job-related factors affecting procedure use, such as boredom, fatigue and stress. Since this is a virtual environment, testing of safety related issues can be accomplished that could not be done in the real world.

The Center for Operator Performance is a collaboration of operating companies and distributed control system (DCS) suppliers that conduct research focused on ways to improve operator performance. Operating companies include: Chevron (ChevronPhillips), Koch Industries (Flint Hills Resources, Invista Chemical, Georgia Pacific), CITGO and NOVA Chemicals (Borealis). The DCS suppliers are Emerson and Yokogawa (KBC). The Center is based at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio.

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