About this topic
Workload can be defined as ‘the amount of demand (or load) being placed on the operator and whether it is within their capacity’. The load can be physical or cognitive, but generally workload assessment focusses on cognitive workload.
The experience of workload is subjective – different people may experience a different workload from the same demands. This is due to the differences in their own capability, which may stem from their competence and experience, personality, health and fitness, stress or fatigue levels.
Relevance to rail
It is important that, in particular, safety critical staff have appropriate levels of workload which allow them to manage their tasks under foreseeable scenarios.
Approaches and models
Workload is often described using an inverted U model, which describes an optimum level of workload where the individual is engaged but not overloaded. Performance tends to decline as workload increases to overload levels and also when workload decreases to underload levels and the individual struggles to maintain engagement with the task.
Workload can be assessed in a number of different ways:
- Analytically – e.g. by measuring or calculating the ‘time occupancy’ or expected time used to deal with required tasks
- Subjectively – e.g. by asking operators to rate their workload on a scale. The NASA-TLX is one of the most common of such scales
- Empirically – e.g. by measuring performance on a second task or by using physiological measures such as heart rate variability or pupil diameter.
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