Dr. Les Ainsworth

Director - Corporate Risk Associates Ltd

The Impact of Computerisation on Next Generation Nuclear Power Plant Control Rooms.
“Will Automation Help, Hinder or Replace Nuclear Control Room Operators?”

Trends in the design of consumer products suggest that many manufacturers of such products have been so focused on computerising that they have introduced many automated functions with insufficient understanding of the underlying tasks. Whilst such poor design can often be passed off as merely being an irritation, increased computerisation in the Nuclear Sector must be based upon sufficient task analyses to ensure that functions can be undertaken safely in all situations. Certainly, advances in computerisation are about to make fundamental changes to the nature of the control room operators’ tasks in the Nuclear Sector, but whilst this presents benefits, there are also significant risks. This means that for the Nuclear Sector the question is not whether to automate, but is how to integrate operators and automation most effectively and safely.
To provide a perspective on the potential impact of computerisation in nuclear power plant control rooms, the following five specific topics will be briefly discussed to indicate how the nature of some tasks might be changed and what human factors concerns these raise;

  • The impact of automation on vigilance, situation awareness and undertaking other tasks,
  • The use of computerised operating procedures and integration with paper-based procedures,
  • Changes in the way that maintenance work (i.e. items temporarily out of commission) are shown in the control room,
  • The impact on reliability at both a task and a functional level,
  • Maintaining sufficient operator awareness to enable safe operation after an automation failure.

About the speaker:

Les Ainsworth has been involved in ergonomics for over 35 years and has wide experience in the practical application of ergonomics and psychology complex industrial processes and systems.

During his career, much of his work has involved studies of complex single and multi-person tasks using various task analysis techniques to identify the behavioural requirements for safe and effective human performance in complex or potentially hazardous. He has provided advice to the Office for Nuclear Regulation and foreign power utilities on the application of task analysis methods. He jointly authored a definitive text on task analysis.

He now provides advice on the integration of ergonomics in Safety Cases, in design and in human factors assessments. Recent work has included participation in assessing human capabilities in severe accidents and a number of studies of human reliability in UK nuclear refuelling and reprocessing facilities. In his spare time, Les enjoys rock-climbing and skiing.

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