August 5, 2019 | Barb Carr

Human factors engineering: Visual displays and auditory messages for safety

Human factors engineering addresses safety problems that arise due to the interaction between people, tools, technology and work environments. Corrective actions to some of these problems may involve the use of better visual displays or auditory messages in the workplace.

Visual displays and auditory messages in the workplace are designed to prompt the worker to react and take appropriate action or change behavior. Visual displays or auditory messages can be the centerpiece of an effective safety communication strategy, but choosing the right display matters. Sometimes we tend to lean on visual because vision is our primary sense but there are times when an auditory message is a better choice.

Should you choose a visual display or an auditory message?

Here is some general advice:

Use visual displays if the message is complex; auditory messages if it is simple.

Use visual displays if the message is long; auditory messages of it is short.

Use visual displays if the message will be referred to later; auditory messages if it will not.

Use visual displays if the message deals with location in space; use auditory messages if it deals with events in time.

Use visual displays with there is no urgency; auditory messages if there is urgency.

Use visual displays if the auditory system is overloaded; auditory messages if the visual system is overloaded.

Use visual displays if the environment is not suitable for auditory messages; use auditory messages if the environment is not suited for visual messages.

Use visual displays if the operator must stay in one spot; use auditory messages if the operator moves around a lot.

Use visual displays if many different kinds of information displayed is simultaneously, monitored or acted upon from time to time; use auditory messages if there is a chance the operator may be subjected to absence of oxygen or high-g forces.

Use auditory messages if the task is detecting a signal in the presence of noise.

(Reference: Van Cott and Kinkade (1972), original source: Fitts, P.M. (ed.)(1951).

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