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Fatigue vs Handovers

One of the discussions that happened after the previous Disastrous Dinners talk covered operator fatigue, particularly when performing monotonous activities that still require a great deal of focus.

The conversation started with a discussion about how much distraction you allow in a control room. Do you ban all Personal phones, internet, books? Do you lock the control room down such that only a very limited number of people are allowed access to it?

The thing is that while removing distractions is all fine and good for short periods, over a longer shift, it would become very boring and tedious. People would risk switching off. One of the other attendees mentioned that in the navy, they are very aware of this kind of fatigue. Those that are on lookout duty, continuously scanning the horizon with binoculars, will only do that job for half an hour. After that, their focus will be useless and so they are rotated onto a different duty.

Could we apply the same idea to control rooms? Could we swap which operators are in the control room across the shift?Could we allow the operator to hyper focus for a short period before letting them get on with something else?

Micro shifts all fine and well for a simple duty like lookout. There is not much to handover. The next person can come in and pick up without any need to be told what has happened previously. But that isn't the case for a control room operator. They require a significant handover to ensure that they each know the state of the plant and what issues they are currently dealing with. What equipment is not available, what were the latest lab qualities, have there been any recent changes?

That was one of the drivers behind the move from 8 hour shifts to 12. You have suddenly dropped the number of handovers from 3 to 2 a day. That is a significant drop in the number of opportunities for something to be missed out or mixed up during a handover.

I don't know what the optimum situation. Even you had an unlimited number of fully trained up and competent control room operators, I didn't know what the best way to organize the shifts and handovers would be to minimise handover errors while also minimise fatigue.

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