Swiss Collider's Operators Comfortably Ergonomic

A bad electrical connection between two magnets triggered the problem that caused technicians to switch off the Large Hadron Collider last month. There's no concern about bad ergonomics: LHC control room operators toiling at 39 workstations will enjoy natural light and comfortable viewing angles and reach distances, according to a profile posted by Britain's Ergonomics Society. (Some of the collider's machinery requires supercold temperatures that are achieved by using lots of energy over a long period of time; the underground device will not be powered up again until spring 2009 because electricity rates in Geneva, Switzerland, are too high to operate it in the winter.)

The society's article profiles the design work done by ergonomists from CCD Design & Ergonomics Ltd of London, a society Registered Consultancy. The article says the LHC site has a single control room, where staff are responsible for generation of the ‘beams’ used for the scientific experiments and the safe operation of the plant as a whole. The CCD ergonomists designed the control room, and their work "is probably the first application of ergonomics in a high energy physics program," the article says.

"One of our first tasks was to analyze the existing working practices of physicists conducting experiments at CERN [the European Organization for Nuclear Research], as well as the activities of staff setting up the machines," CCD managing director John Wood said. "We analyzed all the interactions that would take place in the future control room, including speech links, equipment sharing, and team working. We came up with two alternative control room layouts, which then were critically assessed to see how they worked under different operating conditions, including an emergency, in order to come up with an optimum layout. When it came to the overall design of the room and its lighting, we wanted to ensure that the operators received the psychological benefits of natural light -- and there are spectacular views of the Jura mountains nearby -- and minimize potential sources of glare and reflections.

"It needs to be remembered that, once operational, all the public will be able to see of this major international investment is the control room, so the PR aspect was important," he added.

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