Fatigue Countermeasures: Improving Operator Vigilance

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Fatigue – We’ve all been there.

You’ve been staring at a computer screen for hours. Fatigue is setting in. Eyelids slowly fluttering; getting heavier, struggling to keep them open… not realizing they’re closed now.

Then blinking  rapidly- “How long was I out?!” “Did anyone see?”  “…and still four hours to go in this shift…. how will I make it?”…. Or more importantly: “…WHAT CHANGED ON MY DISPLAY…?”

fatigue sleepy drowsy

A key human factor goal

…in the design of these control centers is using the room environment to help produce better alertness and vigilance in its shiftwork Operators.

Alertness is the instantaneous ability or quality of recognizing a situation and being able to take action.

Vigilance on the other hand is the longer term condition of sustained attention, like for the duration of a shift.

These conditions are two of the key goals of control center design.

Embedding solutions in the design of the room achieving these two simple concepts is paramount to good 24/7 control center design.


Smith LaRock Architecture P.C. specializes in the design of facilities for the Process Control Industry. We integrate architectural design requirements with key human factors to create designs that support the control mission, protect the Users, and promote better safety and deeper HSE benefits.

One aspect of Smith LaRock Architecture’s (SLA) approach

…to designing control facilities includes the integration of key human factors ideas with the physical design of a control center.

By envisioning a built environment that, just by its being, helps its occupants reduce stress and maintain vigilance is truly valuable.

Then, by taking that design further to actively help the Operators recover or enhance their alertness while on-shift through the inclusion of our ‘fatigue countermeasures’ features, we can further extend and enhance the Operators vigilance and support the physiological needs of Operators.

This all creates better situational awareness, and ultimately, improved HSE in the control suite.power utility DOC

Fatigue Countermeasures is what we call

…our approach to putting or recommending additional design elements or features into a design that Operators can use during their shift to actively promote and recover useful alertness.

These features include the now ubiquitous ‘sit-stand’ console solution of course: having Operators be able to stand and work for a couple hours per shift actually offers more benefits than alertness alone.

Increased calorie burning, increased metabolism and other improvements to the body’s physiological well-being are seen, but that’s the subject of another SLA whitepaper.

A few other architectural ideas

sleep pod

…help us promote better alertness: for example,

NASA studies have shown that a 40 minute ‘power nap’ can restore over 54% of a person’s alertness.

While we don’t advocate 40 minute naps while on-shift, we do know that putting a person who was up with a sick child before his or her shift into a 20 minute recovery can save the possibility of an upset occurring at that persons’ unit over the balance of the 720 minute shift. That recovery can occur in a fatigue countermeasures suite adjacent to the control room. We do recommend this pair of rooms offer two recommended activities: the rest/recovery mode, or an exercise/recovery mode.


Light exercise raises

…the body’s core temperature to produce better alertness.

Injecting the right type of light into the eyes of someone while walking a treadmill or riding an exer-cycle can further help develop better alertness; sweating off the pounds isn’t the goal- just moderate movement for 20 minutes or so raises that temperature.

Keeping the exercise and control room light level (lux) at about 50-60 lux minimum with the right type (frequency/color temperature) of light reverses the production of melatonin (sleep trigger) a darker environment evokes.

 The rest/recovery mode can

…be as simple as a lounge chair and low lighting, although there are rest pods available as well.  We see more allowances of the rest/recovery room in Canada due in part to the significant work the Canadian National Railway has done studying the effects of shift work on vigilance.

Allowing for a room in the design that can be used for other things today at least leaves a place for rest recovery. This feature may be especially needed where natural disasters like hurricanes can prevent normal shift changes for a period of days.

Other ways to help keep Operators more alert include promoting the proper diet- reducing sugar via soft drinks and candy is very helpful. Instead provide fruit and lots of water.

Other alertness strategies include:

safety, alertness vigilance

  • Work on developing better sleeping habits
  • Recover lost sleep when possible
  • Take that power nap before your shift
  • Exercise outside work
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Set control equipment to eliminate glare or other elements of work strife that affect you mentally and physically
  • Reduce noise in your home and work environment
  • Maintain a normal office temperature- then decrease it by a couple degrees to promote the use of sit-stand and other movement techniques; don’t just sit there for 8-12 hours!
  • Aromatherapy
  • Use vigilant lighting in control center, and higher in kitchen, locker room, exercise room, offices/work areas: 50-60 lux (~500-650 fc)

Most importantly, just educate the Operations staff as to the benefits associated with a healthy approach to alertness and vigilance techniques in the control center.


Written by:  Michael Smith – Smith LaRock Architecture Owner & Principal Architect


See SLA’s FAQ’s and Resources here:  https://slarc.com/faqs-resources/

See a recent power utility control room case study here:  https://slarc.com/power-utility-doc-distribution-operations-center/

Check out our 3D panoramas used for client review and approvals:  https://roundme.com/@jingerslev


Contact us for more info: 

www.slarc.com  |  info@slarc.com  |  303-534-2200


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