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Predicting System Interactions in the Design Process - Introduction
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  • Description:
    Almost every process has a predecessor, and studying the predecessor helps to define needs and shortcomings to be addressed in the new design. It also suggests what information is needed by the users in order for them to be able to operate safely and effectively. The end users of a system can provide important feedback to better evaluate the current and proposed designs. When new technology is introduced into a system, mishaps may occur before it is realized that human-system interactions were not considered adequately in the design process. A systematic methodology to evaluate the causes of these injuries and to develop remedial recommendations can enhance safety. This paper illustrates how such an approach was used to assess remote machine operation in underground coal mines. The dynamic work environment of underground mining with its unpredictable geologic anomalies can result in numerous hazards. Many of these hazards, including mine roof collapse, occur near the working face where coal is being extracted. The face area is also where the most intricate interactions of people and equipment occur. For these reasons, a high priority has been placed upon minimizing hazards to the workers at the face. A remote control operation was introduced to provide a safer working distance from these hazards. As the remote control technology began to be widely used for extended cut mining operations, new issues became evident. It was essential to develop mechanisms for mines to evaluate these issues in order to predict and reduce injuries. Mining methods and equipment changes must allow for the ability of workers to adapt to changes in their dynamic mining environment. Consideration should be given to how the worker will use familiar information to make decisions in now unfamiliar situations. There will be both intended and unintended consequences [Merton, 1949]. Designers try to anticipate and eliminate surprises, but it is impossible to eliminate them all. How, then, will the new system affect the tasks to workers which are currently accustomed? As suggested below, this question may be addressed and more of the unintended outcomes predicted with a planned design process which includes strong human factors input to determine interactions and behaviors of participants.

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