The Effects of Interface Management Tasks on Crew Performance and Safety in Complex, Computer-Based Systems: Overview and Main Findings (NUREG/CR-6690, BNL-NUREG-52656, Volume 1)

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Publication Information

Manuscript Completed: March 2002
Date Published: August 2002

Prepared by:
John M. O'Hara and William S. Brown
Energy Science and Technology Department
Brookhaven National Laboratory
Upton, New York 11973-5000

Paul M. Lewis and J.J. Persensky
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001

Paul M. Lewis, NRC Project Manager

Prepared for:
Division of Systems Analysis and Regulatory Effectiveness
Office of Nuclear Regulatory Research
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
Washington, DC 20555-0001

NRC Job Code W6546

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The primary tasks performed by nuclear power plant operators are process monitoring and control. To perform these tasks in a computer-based system, operators must perform secondary tasks such as retrieving information and configuring workstation displays. These are called "interface management tasks." Demands associated with interface management tasks may be excessive under some circumstances and potentially affect plant safety. The objective of this research was to evaluate the effects of interface management tasks on crew performance and safety using published literature, discussions with subject-matter experts, site visits, and simulator studies. We found evidence of two forms of negative effects: (1) primary task performance declines because operator attention is directed toward the interface management task, and (2) under high workload, operators minimize their performance of interface management tasks, thus failing to retrieve potentially important information for their primary tasks. Further, these effects were found to have potential negative effect on safety. The results of this study are reported in two volumes. Volume 1 provides an overview of the major findings. Volume 2 describes the detailed analyses that were performed. The results form the technical basis for human factors engineering guidelines for the review the interface management aspects of human-system interface designs, to help ensure that they do not compromise safety.

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