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Emily Thorne, Senior human factors consultant, Atkins


Senior human factors consultant

When did you join Atkins?

 September 2008.

 Why did you join Atkins?

 I completed a four-year sandwich BSc degree in Ergonomics (Human Factors) at Loughborough University. I spent the third year of the course working for Atkins as an undergraduate placement student which gave me a Diploma in Professional Studies (DPS). I thoroughly enjoyed the year which lead me to apply to Atkins following my graduation.

 How would you describe your role and responsibilities?

 I work on large multi-disciplined engineering design projects in high hazard industries, including rail, nuclear and oil & gas. Working closely with architects and engineers, I provide integrated human factors design input from concept through to detailed design, to ensure that user requirements are understood and considered throughout the design. I aim to ensure that the designs of complex systems are optimised for their users and minimise the potential for human error. Effective communication is central to my job, whether I’m working with design teams, clients or end-users.

 How do you describe what you do to friends and family?

 People often think that ergonomics is about the design of offices and comfy chairs – but it’s far more than that! Humans can be the weak link in complex systems – often accidents in high hazard incidents can be traced back to human interaction. I’m responsible for the “people part” in the design of complex systems – my job is to understand user needs and ensure that these are considered throughout design development to enable safe, efficient working environments.

 Do you have any professional accreditations?

 Atkins’ human factors engineering and ergonomics design team is accredited by the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (IEHF) and I am a registered member
What key projects have you worked on?

 I have worked on numerous projects where I have led the design for complex control facilities, including the station operations room at Farringdon Station, which incorporates control desks for London Underground and Network Rail staff, and eventually will accommodate Crossrail control equipment and operators too. A full scale mock-up of the control room was created allowing users to review and input into the final design, which ultimately led to a relatively straight forward commissioning process which pleased the client!

 What are you currently working on?

 I am working on a number of smaller projects within the rail and oil & gas sectors. I am also leading human factors engineering support to a large multi-disciplined engineering project within the nuclear sector. This includes planning, managing and delivering technical design input into Controls and Instrumentation (C&I) software and hardware systems, control room design, emergency response procedures and facilities and mechanical handling. Knowledge and application of safety assessment principles and design safety principles is central to the role.

 What achievement are you most proud of?

 I am most proud of the work achieved by the Atkins graduate forum formed in 2008 – I was a founding member when I joined Atkins and worked with 12 other graduates from different parts of the business to improve the professional development and community experience of Atkins’ graduates. The forum’s recommendations led to significant improvements and use of the graduate site and appointment of graduate representatives for each part of the business who work to share information amongst graduates, organise social events and continue to grow the graduate community across the Group.

 What’s the most technically challenging project you’ve worked on at Atkins?

 I did some work in Hong Kong for MTR (Mass Transit Railway) looking at crowd flows and passenger way-finding at some new stations. I have completed numerous projects in the UK for London Underground and Network Rail, but working in a foreign country with a different client meant that there were different considerations to be made which took some getting used to, but it was great fun getting to experience a new country and way of working.
The Atkins Factor
How has your career developed at Atkins?

 I have been able to drive my own career progression by gaining varied experience on numerous projects across different industries, and I continuously learn a great deal from the wide range of people with diverse technical skills who work at Atkins.

 How have you been supported during your career development?

 I became actively involved with the graduate community when I joined Atkins. By becoming a graduate representative for my business I got to know many people from across the Group, allowing me to promote my career development through organising and attending many professional and social events.

 How do human factors engineers and Atkins make a difference?

 Application of human factors can identify operational goals and functional requirements from the outset, and therefore improve the efficiency, safety and reliability of complex systems. Human factors design principles can be applied to the design workspaces, systems, tasks, jobs, teams, tools, workload and environments. Full identification and understanding of user needs at the outset can often prevent hefty re-work in the long run.

 How would you describe the culture at Atkins?

 I find the people at Atkins are approachable and great fun to work with, which encourages a positive approach to work and problem-solving, and there are always people keen to take part in social and community activities outside of work too.

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