The human factors aspects of alarms in human supervisory control tasks
This research thesis is concerned with the human factors aspects of industrial alarm systems within human supervisory control tasks. Typically such systems are located in central control rooms, and the information may be presented via visual display units. The thesis develops a human, rather than engineering, centred approach to the assessment, measurement and analysis of the situation. A human factors methodology was employed to investigate the human requirements through: interviews, questionnaires, observation and controlled experiments. Based on the analysis of current industrial alarm systems in a variety of domains (power generation, manufacturing and coronary care), it is suggested that often designers do not pay due considerations to the human requirements. It is suggested that most alarm systems have severe shortcomings in human factors terms. The interviews, questionnaire and observations led to the proposal of 'alarm initiated activities' as a framework for the research to proceed. The framework comprises of six main stages: observe, accept, analyse, investigate, correct and monitor. This framework served as a basis for laboratory research into alarm media. Under consideration were speech-based alarm displays and visual alarm displays. Non-speech auditory displays were the subject of a literature review. The findings suggest that care needs to be taken when selecting the alarm media. Ideally it should be chosen to support the task requirements of the operator, rather than being arbitrarily assigned. It was also indicated that there may be some interference between the alarm initiated activities and the alarm media, i.e. information that supports one particular stage of alarm handling may interfere with another.