Computerisation often involves the amalgamation of the larger process units into a single control room. This adds to the operator’s responsibilities since the economic value of what is controlled increases, which in turn increases the fear of any fault arising. In addition, the operator ends up further away from the actual process. There is thus a likelihood that the operator’s knowledge will diminish about what actually happens in the process (that is, the opportunity for learning and improvement also diminishes). Over time, this can mean that the operator is uncertain of what to do in critical situations, thereby heightening the feelings of fear and insecurity.

It is interesting to note that, contrary to expectations, computerisation in the process industries has not brought any great reduction in the number of employees. According to Berglund (1982), a limited level of automation may result in a certain reduction in staffing levels (see Figure 1.2). But when the degree of automation rises, a ‘cut-off’ level is eventually reached where there is no further reduction in manning levels. If the degree of automation is increased much further, the staffing level may even increase. Sorge et al. (1982) found similar results in the manufacturing industry.

The introduction of computers for process control and process monitoring brings with it new forms of information and control devices. The traditional control panel has been either partially or completely replaced by visual display units (VDUs), and the traditional buttons, levers, and knobs have been replaced by keyboards. This can create new problems. VDUs require special lighting conditions and the screens increase the load on the operator’s eyesight. The various types of printers can create considerable noise problems. Certain units give off a relatively large amount of heat. For example, a data terminal gives off about the same amount of heat as a person. If the ventilation system is already working near its limit, problems of excessive warmth may occur. This list of problems can be extensive. Here, however, it suf­fices to say that there are a variety of different problems that may be encountered in


FIGURE 1.2 The relation between level of automation and number of employees.

computerisation of process control. It is therefore important to attempt to predict the problems at an early stage in the planning of a new, computerised process industry (or in the computerisation of an older existing process industry) so that they can be avoided as far as possible.

Figure 1.3 shows schematically the progression towards a technical system. The initial stages involve the planning and design, and then the system is built. This is operated and maintained, and at the end is finally dismantled and partially or completely removed. Traditionally, planning has been carried out as in Figure 1.3a, where it has precise starting and end points, although there is much to suggest that this rigid approximation is not suitable. In many organisations some kind of plan­ning, for alternatives, is ongoing most of the time. One should treat the planning process as a continuous activity, as in Figure 1.3b, and all interested parties should participate in the activity.

The past decades have seen a paradigm shift in our understanding of work and the conditions of work. The perception of people and job design with people in mind is much more holistic, as opposed to pragmatic. A pragmatic approach would tend to aim for a solution regardless of how people are affected by that solution. Nowadays, participation from employees is an obvious necessity. This has a large impact on the job content. This is discussed in this new edition of the handbook. Today, control room operators have larger and more complex jobs. But in most control room situa­tions, operators have no opportunity to envision new perspectives of their industry, and this is a problem for operator and process development. Concerns for environ­mental and energy husbandry have become more prevalent.





FIGURE 1.3 The ongoing process for planning and building new industries.


In his classic book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, published in 1970, Thomas Kuhn described the natural sciences from the perspective of models of thinking where one paradigm would be the universally accepted view. Paradigms encourage people to see things in a certain way. This happens in industry and busi­ness, as well as in academic disciplines. Thought and action continue along accepted pathways. Any alternatives to the accepted way of seeing and doing are regarded as irregular, unacceptable, or downright wrong. That is, until someone or something changes the prevailing worldview. Technologies often disrupt existing paradigms. Information technologies (IT) such as the Internet, the widespread use of personal computers, and the phenomenal growth of e-mail, search engines, and information­sharing facilities (such as YouTube, MySpace, and Facebook) disrupt many existing paradigms as people adapt to new channels of information. Today we face a new par­adigm shift. The control room concept seems to be on its way out. In new industries and in professions where new technologies are used, control centres have become the norm. We will therefore talk about control centres as these incorporate a wider scope of supervision, control, and development. In these contexts we will see greater complexity. For example, communicating and control systems will have complex hierarchical processes. Whether local, regional, national, or global, the processes will enable communication to take place in real time between these different levels of the hierarchy. Operating between these hierarchies will be networks of subsys­tems. A classic example is the reservations systems of airlines. These were among the first data and information systems to be globally networked, allowing user access from anywhere within the network.

The ‘control room concept’ is spreading to many new areas. For example, the food processing and food technology industries are now included in the traditional control room concept. There are many obvious advantages to making these indus­tries automated and limiting direct human involvement that leads to, for example, improvements in levels of hygiene quality. However, a problem of introducing auto­mation in this context relates to the difficulties in measuring different quality-related factors without direct human involvement. Many aspects of food processing are dependent upon tacit knowledge of professionals and, often, such knowledge is the preserve of specific ‘expert’ individuals. In brewing, winemaking, and cheese fer­mentation, the brewers, vintners, and cheese makers often rely upon their ‘nose’ to gauge quality.

In recent years, there have been a number of completely new areas of control rooms—or, rather, control centre—types of applications. One very fast-growing application is in surveillance and security control centres. These incorporate much more than ‘policing’ of urban, business, and residential districts. Yet another area is that of financial control and trading centres. These began to emerge to some extent more than ten years ago. Today most large companies have control centres to improve the quality of financial planning and to provide real-time data on market movements. Companies such as Reuters and Bloomberg have successfully exploited the need of the financial services industries for such data.

In the public management sector, this past decade has seen the emergence of e-government systems. However, while development has been rapid, these systems have tended to be in isolation. Today more and more of the work of government departments is coordinated in e-government systems. Often e-government systems are very clearly separated from the departments working in traditional ways. One risk here is that the two processes will continue to work in parallel and the govern­ment and its departments will have duplicate operations. In this scenario, there is a need to create some kind of control centre that clearly will be controlled by the top management of the organisation. In the near future, one more-than-likely scenario is that national systems will interconnect all (or at least most) of the government ser­vices within a country. In this scenario there could be virtual connectivity between the member systems at different levels. Different national systems could be intercon­nected to create clusters of regional systems. Existing systems of e-government and multinational systems such as the different agencies of the UN and the EU are likely to become embryonic control centres on a global scale. A key issue for government and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) is the need for high-quality informa­tion that is formally correct. In this, a critical issue in the future will be to decide how to handle the different legislations (for example, regarding openness and public availability of government information) that are involved when control systems have a global reach.


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Updated: September 23, 2015 — 3:16 pm