Water systems in first-world countries such as Australia are still vulnerable to critical incidents that can result in health and safety disturbances. This research investigated the human element issues of control room operations for both water treatment and distribution. Data collection was by means of semi-structured management interviews, observations of routine work, operator interviews and questionnaires, and the application of a best practice checklist for alarms.
The main findings were that there is considerable room for improvement in human factor issues such as alarm-handling, interface design and human technology integration. For example, at one site visited alarm flooding was common, operator interfaces suffered from a lack of consistency and integration, and tasks were not appropriately delegated to human operators and system automation. The key message emerging is that the water sector does not give adequate consideration to the dynamic interactions between equipment, work tasks and operators. There is a need for user-centred design and evaluation in this domain so that technology and humans can be appropriately integrated in a work system.
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