Control room operators have very challenging and important jobs, which is why everything possible should be done to make their work easier. None of us are at our best when we are uncomfortable or in pain, and this is especially true when stress and pressure are added to the mix. This is why control room ergonomics is so important. However, what exactly is ergonomics?
Ergonomics is defined as the study of how people interact with their working environments. More specifically, an ergonomist, also known as a human factors specialist, is a person that modifies or designs the work or work area to fit the employee, not the other way around. The role of the human factors specialist is in making sure that products and equipment are as safe and easy to utilize as possible.
There are many advantages to ergonomic design. For one, the design is healthier and more comfortable, which is a benefit to the worker. Healthier, happier people are more productive, which is a benefit to the company. Ergonomic designs are often more efficient and productive in themselves, which boosts morale and production even more. While one of the aims of ergonomics is to provide the highest levels of efficiency, its main goal is to remove discomfort and the risk of injury due to work.
The Importance of Ergonomics in the Control Room
Working at poorly designed control room furniture for prolonged periods can lead to painful musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive stress injuries, which could, in turn, lead to missed time and workers’ compensation claims. This is why buying inexpensive control room furniture that has been designed with price rather than performance in mind can be a false economy.
Ergonomics is particularly important in control room environments because operators are expected to perform repetitive movements while seated or standing for long periods. When the furniture they use makes this uncomfortable, the results are usually low morale and poor performance. To get the best performance from control room operators, their environments should be designed with ergonomic considerations in mind. These considerations include:
- Posture: Operators should be able to perform their duties while sitting up straight with their shoulders relaxed.
- Eye fatigue: The distance between a screen and an operator’s eyes should be between 20 and 30 inches.
- Neck strain: Operators should not have to tilt their heads at angles of more than 25 degrees to perform their duties. This can usually be accomplished by tilting monitors slightly upward. Occasional stretching and craning is OK.
- Wrist strain: Wrists should be relaxed and natural and hands should be at or below elbow level when typing.
- Knee and back support: Operators should sit on chairs that support their lower backs and at a height that keeps their knees about level with their hips.
Workstation Ergonomics in Practice
Putting all of this into practice involves equipping workstations with furniture and equipment that is comfortable to use, and it should also be adjustable because control room operators come in all heights and weights.
Consoles should have enough room underneath to allow operators to sit without banging or scraping their knees. Control rooms can be frantic at times, so it may be a good idea to choose consoles with rounded edges or install padding to prevent minor knocks from becoming painful injuries. Sit-stand consoles are the gold standard ergonomically speaking because they allow operators to work in the position they find most comfortable. Standing, even for brief periods, during a long shift can also sharpen the senses, prevent back strain and improve posture.
Chairs should rise high enough and sink low enough to allow operators to sit with their feet flat and their legs parallel to the floor no matter how short or tall they are. Armrests should also be adjustable so that operators can use them with their shoulders relaxed. Padding should be sufficient to provide comfort, but overly plush chairs should be avoided as they may not provide enough lower back support.
Footrests can prevent feet from dangling and avoid leg pain and cramping when shorter operators use consoles that cannot be lowered.
Monitors should be placed behind keyboards and directly in front of operators to make it easier for them to type while reading text or watching footage. The top of the monitor screen should be roughly at or a little below eye level, and the brightest light source should ideally be to one side rather than overhead.
Keyboards and Mice
Keyboards and mice should be placed within easy reach and on the same surface. Operators should be able to use computer input devices while keeping their arms close to their bodies, their wrists straight and their hands slightly below their elbows. Ergonomic keyboards are available that have a curved appearance and feature padded wrist rests. These should be used whenever possible, along with ergonomic mice that are designed to fit the contours of the human hand.
Operators should be issued headsets, as cradling a phone between the neck and head can cause headaches and neck pain. Other items, such as staplers and files, should be placed within easy reach as part of a good workstation design.
Control Room Layout
Control rooms should be laid out in a way that allows operators to perform their duties while remaining aware of what is going on around them. They should be able to see their supervisors and colleagues without bending or stretching, and the ambient light should be bright enough to prevent eye strain but not so bright that it becomes glaring.
Make Control Room Ergonomics a Reality
Saraval Industries has years of experience designing and building control rooms and other mission-critical environments. Our designers follow the latest ergonomic standards, and we review each project to ensure that industry-specific requirements are met, sightlines are optimized and the available space is used intelligently.