(55ab) Studying the Dependence of Operator Performance on Step Level Complexity

Authors: 
Harhara, A., Texas A&M University
Ade, N., Texas A&M University
Parker, T., Texas A&M University
Quddus, N., Texas A&M University
Peres, S. C., Texas A&M University
Mannan, M. S., Texas A&M University
In the chemical, oil, and power industry, procedures are used by operators to perform their work correctly without compromising safety. Unfortunately, many procedures fail in adequately conveying information to their users. Heuristics tell us that technical jargon, vague language, and operator training all play a role in determining the effectiveness of procedures. To what extent these variables play a role is still not fully understood. Knowing this information will allow plants to more effectively write procedures. To counter this, researchers at Texas A&M’s School of Public Health and Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center are investigating the underlying factors that cause operators to deviate from procedures.

One possible factor may be that complex steps hinder an operator’s ability to perform a task. This work aims to understand why certain steps are more complex than others. To do this, a set of procedures on how to operate a gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GCMS) machine is written. A study is performed in which participants use a set of procedures to analyze samples through gas chromatography. Using a scoring rubric, the complexity of each step is determined. The procedures have been designed to obtain an even distribution of complexity. Participants for this study are chemical engineering students with little to no prior experience in handling a GCMS machine. Thus, the experience, education, expertise, and training of the participants is controlled. The performance of each participant is reviewed and is grouped into one of four quadrants. For this study, a decrease in operator performance is expected as the complexity of each step increases.