Top 5 Tips for Control Room Design

The control room serves as a vital heartbeat in the overall operation, no matter which sector.

From emergency services’ control rooms, dispatching resources and getting help to members of the community in need; to nuclear plants monitoring activity and transport hubs ensuring all services run on time and safely - the common thread is continuous operation by the operators who manage everything that comes into and goes out of that function.

Control room design is increasingly being recognised as an extremely important contributor to high performance. The 3 critical components of control room design are:

  1. Human elements

  2. Technology and machinery

  3. Environmental factors

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People are at the heart of the control room

Put simply, our control rooms should be designed around the needs of the operator using a top-down approach that takes into account all areas of their console - including but not limited to the room layout, how well the monitor tilts, the lighting and air temperature.

And while control rooms are complex projects to design and build, often difficult to update once operational, it’s good practice to understand the key principles of control room design. This insight can be used to direct any future updates and also to make small improvements over a period of time.

There’s a growing body of research and insight available to control room managers and operators to influence how their control room is designed, including the ISO 11064 standard, which specifically draws up the principles in this area.

Let’s look at our top 5 tips for designing your control room.

1 | Think operator ergonomics - does the environment fit our people?

Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. In more practical terms, it's about designing for efficiency and comfort in the working environment. In the control room, the work environment is particularly crucial for several reasons:

  • operators often work long shifts

  • the control room is operational 24/7

  • the role involves prolonged periods using displays

  • employees are handling ever-increasing volumes of data

  • contextual factors require fast responsiveness and create pressure

So before doing anything, ask yourself whether the control room you operate in is truly built to support staff. If there are areas where the environment is not totally compatible, try making some improvements to ergonomics; the next 3 points will help you identify the most critical.

2 | Monitors, displays and controls

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Maximising safe, reliable, efficient and comfortable use of graphic screen displays and controls are imperative.

You should remember that the amount of information an individual can handle is limited, so screen design layout will have a considerable impact on overall operator performance and role satisfaction. The leading thinktanks recommend that displays used for close image inspection should be positioned directly in front of the operator and sized between 19-24 inches. Multiple screens can be used, but there must still be space for writing if this is required by the role.

Interestingly, studies have shown that when operators get nervous or come under high stress, it can become more difficult to click on an icon using a mouse, whereas it’s much easier to point with the finger - which makes a touch screen a perfect choice. They can also be reached at shorter distance and from a more relaxed seating position. This would suggest touch-screen monitors are optimal for best-practice control room design.

Choice of interfaces and software can also influence the way we use monitors and screens more effectively. For example, our control room software Cortex enables operators to access multiple feeds including radio, telephony, CCTV and more on one screen. Our training team are experts in building the interface to suit your operational requirements too, so we can move the widgets to the best ergonomically suited location on screen.

3 | Room architecture, furniture and seating

The control room building itself is the shell of the system and so is vital in its own right. Experts suggest the recipe for control room architecture success includes:

  • Sufficient space to comfortably accommodate all necessary equipment and allow staff to move freely

  • Off-white matt or flat finished walls

  • North-facing windows visible from a seated position

  • Consideration for reflection to reduce eye strain

  • Customisation with logos, images and designs to give identity

  • Furniture that’s reconfigurable, robust and that requires little head movement and minimal eye movement. It’s easy to forget that standard office furniture is designed for use 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. When you consider that a typical control room operates 24/7, 365 days of the year, we can see exactly why it’s useful to opt for purpose-built control room consoles.

4 | Environmental requirements

The research tells us that the control room environment is strongly affected by a set of core factors:

  1. Ambient noise

  2. Air quality and temperature

  3. Lighting

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We know that acoustics should be considered as a priority to reduce unnecessary noise and that air quality and temperature play an important role in keeping operators awake and alert. Ideally, room temperature should range from 21-22C.

Research suggests that indirect ambient lighting is best, especially where ceiling reflects light down into the room.

5 | Evaluation and feedback

Control rooms are busy. They’re in constant operation. They need non-stop maintenance. While we can’t always secure funding for investment in the working environment, we can work on small changes that make the control room more ergonically optimised.

What’s crucially important is that operators are included in iterative design processes that are on-going. Ask staff for feedback, learn lessons and make improvements based on that information. Why not think about setting up a control room design project team, or a suggestion box in the staff recreation area for future considerations.

Control room staff will be appreciative of the opportunity to improve their workspace and feel part of that process.

In summary…

The control room plays a central role during emergency situations with operators making often life and death decisions - so it’s critically important that we invest in creating the right environment, not just for staff efficiency but to enhance morale, foster long-term retention and therefore stability.

There are many ways we can make improvements to the environment we work in, from the layout of the room to the lighting, noise levels and decoration. What’s crucially important are the ways we manage screens and display equipment, not just for comfort but also health and safety.

As the control room becomes more integral to all walks of life, we need to be sure that we’re aware of the requirements of the ISO 11064 standards and try to practice these as fully as we can in our own environments.

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Find out more

When you choose to use our integrated communications software, you’ll condense many feeds into one interface. What’s more, as part of our service, we’ll help you build your screen layout as part of your training workshop to improve operator comfort and ensure all information is instantly available.

Find out about our software and solutions here.