This website does not use cookies. Read Privacy Policy here.
Beville Engineering Logo

"Operators are like firemen: you would rather see them sitting than running around."


This is an analogy I have heard several times in relation to operator staffing. Operators chafe at managers concluding that they have too many operators when they see operators sit in the control room. While seeing the operators sit in the control room is not a valid metric of staffing, the fireman example is, at best, spurious.

The problem with the fireman analogy is that, while it may apply to detection of understaffing, it validates all levels of overstaffing. If two operators have extra time on their hands and meet the fireman criteria, four operators for the same unit would have even more time. Is the unit operating better because I now have more operators with little to do?

The typical arguments miss the point - staffing is about return on investment, not about idleness. An operating position costs a plant an estimated $250,000/year. The key question in staffing is value added for the expenditure. One plant had higher than average staffing levels, in large part due to a requirement to have operators perform a round every two hours. Concurrent with the increase in round time was a reduction in incidents at the refinery. The extra operators paid for themselves, not because of their mere presence, but because of the tasks being performed while they were present. (By the way, these operators didnít sit around in the control room for long).

I wouldnít vote for a tax levy to add firemen so more firemen can sit around more often. I would vote for a tax levy to add firemen if they added value to my community.

Copyright © 1999 Beville Engineering, Inc.


Article Published By
Control Systems, Oh, No...Not Again! Control Global
David Strobhar: Breaking Down Human Language
DCS Console Operator Issues in Related Industries 2011 TAPPI PEERS Conference
How Good is Your Operator's Mental Model? Mynah
How to Build a Better Operator - ABB Automation & Power World Control


This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 7-10 in Houston, TX. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!


Our summer newsletter is now available. Click here!

Take our short survey on operator span of control. Click here (new window)

David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.

Copyright © 1996-2019 Beville Engineering, Inc. All rights reserved. (937)434-1093.