Cognitive Study of Human Factors for Safe Drilling Operations: Eye-Tracking Technology

The current energy needs require viable and safe oil and gas operations. As the operational paradigms are shifting to complex environments and newly devised systems are adding new dimensions to it every day, systemic robustness is the need of the hour.

Considering most of the rigs deal with human-machine interface systems, the role of human factors is at the heart of any successful operation. The failure of different human factors aspects have disastrous consequences.

Every time when reports come out for investigation of injuries, accidents, and loss of well control incidents, they directly or indirectly indicate failure of various aspects of human factors. Past studies have limited focus on the human-machine interfacial system approach. However, repeated failures have forced the industry and academia to take a closer look at the cascading failures with human errors perspective and investigate the cognitive aspect.

Systems are now designed to fit the physiological limitations of the people tasked with managing them. The design includes features that optimize the productivity, minimize the errors and training time, and improve the compatibility of operation.

Offshore operations deal with simultaneous activities with interdependent outcomes. The success of an operation relies on exhibiting the process under a common goal with convergent results from each sub steps. In such situations, different tasks require attention simultaneously and exhibit associated procedures. This operational aspect leads to a stressful environment, and failure on such accounts either slow down the whole operation or results in negative consequences.

The poor outcomes can be due to poor situational awareness, which can be overcome through tools to measure the cognitive responses of participants in real time. Several measures have been employed to diagnose and outline the problems in the past. However, such measures are subjective. An alternative assessment approach could be using a physiological measurement, specifically, eye movements. Based on the eye-mind hypothesis, we can assume that eye movements are highly correlated with the attention that can likely lead to awareness of the situation.

Eye-tracking is an exciting and widely accepted technology to objectively measure the ocular activity and visual search behavior of the participants in the pursuit of problem solving. At the University of Oklahoma (OU), the team led by me has tried to implement and assess the potential of this technology in petroleum operations.

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