Saturday, February 16, 2008

Human Factors: To Compete or Cooperate?

HF plays role in many diverse industries. This article discusses HF in the process industry ...

"Human factors engineering is a major issue in the process industries—big enough that there are now two separate organizations on the case.

Is there any better indicator that an industry is grappling with a complex problem than when competing companies form a consortium to solve it? There must be a great deal of work to do, then, in the process industries, because there are now two consortia addressing similar issues. In both groups, human factors engineers are playing a central role in defining how future process operations will integrate people and technology to maximize plant safety and productivity.

Like much of the world, the process industries have undergone remarkable changes as a consequence of the microprocessor revolution. The distributed control systems, or DCS, introduced in the mid-1970s allowed for the control of large process installations (think refineries, power plants, and heavy manufacturing) by small, centrally located operations teams. Replacing individual regulatory controllers, the DCS integrated multiple controllers into schemes of increasing complexity, governed by advanced computation, logic, and sequential commands.

... The problem with the "human error" attribution, however, is that blaming humans for technology failures leaves engineers with little insight into how to design alternative human-technology systems that are more resistant to failure. It is, therefore, no surprise that human factors specialists in a leading control system vendor pushed for engineering solutions to the problem of human error in the process industries."    (Continued via Mechanical Engineering Magazine)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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