System Integration & Control Systems Design


Human factors engineering

September 2011 System Integration & Control Systems Design

Operator up-skilling key to prevent critical problems in the oil and gas industry.

“Operators on oil and gas platforms need to interact with the process automation systems more reliably in order to reduce the risk of human error in the event of an abnormal situation in the operation of plant automated activity,” said Honeywell solution specialist, Nick Meijer, speaking at the recent Offshore West Africa Conference and Exhibition in Ghana.

The object of ‘human factors’ engineering, as it is now termed, is to ensure that technicians operate systems at the required design limits with sufficient knowledge, training and capability to ensure that no major catastrophe takes place if plant deviations or alarms occur while the operator is on duty.

Abnormal situation management

In this vein, Honeywell and other leading players in the oil and gas industry formed the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium to develop products, services and best practices to identify and address human factors issues in the control and automation industries, especially in the advent of an abnormal situation.

“When an industrial process is disturbed and the automated control system cannot cope, the operations team must intervene to supplement the control system. The advent of technology, whilst bringing many advantages to operations and processes within the oil and gas sector, also brings a great degree of sophistication, thereby increasing the risk of human error. We try and eliminate this error by the development of further automation, when, in fact, improved operator training, certification, interaction requirements analysis and a better understanding of the task, team, process and strategies for operator specific automation is required,” explained Meijer.

“Many localised issues come to mind in the African context of the oil and gas sector. For example, language plays a big part in limiting the ability of operators to comprehend operating procedures, especially in abnormal situations. This could result in significant and costly delays while an operator grapples with terminology in a second or third language before activating the required procedures. There is also the ‘interaction requirement’, where operators should be collaborating on a need to ‘know’, ‘share’ and ‘do’ philosophy with various work processes. Therefore it makes sense that practical outcomes for alarming, start-up/shut-down procedures, systems and safety guidelines and standards become more deployable. The capturing of human factors outcomes must become more strategic in order to assist operators and technicians make the correct decisions at the right moment in a time critical situation.”

It is a fact that process and plant systems are subjected to external pressures both natural and mechanical. The design of these systems aims to eliminate as many disturbances or abnormal situations as possible, but, an event that lies outside the original design realm becomes reliant on the operator’s ability to interpret visual displays, manage alarms and control sequences in order to protect lives and equipment.

“It is when skills are lacking, or not up to date, that critical problems occur. In essence the operator is expected to establish where and why the automation stopped ‘thinking and doing’ and take over. This presents difficulties and we believe an effective proactive monitoring strategy will be of benefit to operators. Greater assessment and analysis of human factor errors can assist in the development of new systems, software and procedures. When combined with constant up-skilling of operators, this will reduce the percentage of human factors errors and have a major impact in terms of cost, downtime and even life saving and environmental damage,” concluded Meijer.

For more information contact Debbie Rae, Honeywell Southern Africa, +27 (0)11 695 8000, hsa@honeywell.com, www.honeywell.co.za


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