Round-the-clock hourly operation at a processing plant usually has significant peaks and troughs in work activity. Activity typically peaks in the first few hours of the day shift as maintenance arrives and begins their work, and tapers off during the afternoon, giving operators time to catch up on daily tasks. Evenings and nights are usually the slowest periods, in which the operators can spend significant effort in sustaining boredom. It is during evening and night shifts that sustaining boredom and maintaining vigilance becomes a problem. A processing plant operator's primary duty on evening and night shifts is to make regular surveillance of the equipment and respond to upset and emergency situations.
In many occupations it is necessary for the employees to maintain a high level of vigilance during low activity periods, especially in oil refineries and petrochemical plants where a lapse in attention may result in millions of dollars of loss to the company and possibly injury or loss of life to the employees themselves. A recent study published in the Human Factors Journal (Volume 37, No 4, December 1995) suggests that it may be possible to determine if an individual is prone to boredom, thus allowing employers to better match an employee to a particular job. The study attempted to find a link between boredom and performance of vigilance tasks.
This study suggests that it is possible to measure trait boredom and to identify people who may be prone to becoming bored by using the Boredom Proneness Scale. The Boredom Proneness Scale is a subjective 28 item questionnaire designed to assess an individualís predisposition to boredom. Subjects were required to complete the Boredom Proneness Scale both before and after a vigilance task was performed. It was thought that subjects with a high Boredom Proneness score would show a significant difference in the number of "hits" during the vigilance performance task. This assumption turned out to be correct, in that there was a high correlation between the proportion of hits and the subjectís score on the Boredom Proneness Scale. After the vigilance task, high boredom prone subjects tended to report considerably more boredom during the task than subjects with lower boredom proneness ratings. The findings suggest that the Boredom Proneness Scale may be a valid predictor of an individualís propensity to become bored.
Once the individuals have been identified, management must make a decision on how to handle the boredom prone people. Management can place the boredom prone individuals in positions that are not isolated and have regular contact with other people. Management can also provide some form of job enrichment, such as prepping the equipment for the next dayís maintenance, revising process documentation, or training. Enrichment is an excellent way to break the off-hours job monotony and gain valuable process improvements.
In sum, the Boredom Proneness Scale is an evolving tool that will let managers do a better job of managing a diverse work force.
Copyright © 1997 Beville Engineering, Inc. , All Rights Reserved
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This year's Fall meeting for the Center for Operator Performance will be October 24-26 in Corpus Christi. For more information, please contact Lisa Via. Guests are always welcome!
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David Strobhar's book, "Human Factors in Process Plant Operation," is now available in both hardcover and Kindle e-book.
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