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CAT in the Wild: Using the Communication Analysis Tool to examine mining supervisors' tasks

by Hawa Muhammad Farid

A team of researchers from the University of Western Australia and Curtin University, Hawa Muhammad Farid, Lisette Kanse and Florian Klonek, were invited to present one of their recent research projects at the Ergonomics and Human Factors 2020 Conference. As a result of the current COVID-19 situation, the conference, which was intended to be held in a face-to-face format in Stratford-upon-Avon in the United Kingdom in April 2020, went virtual. Hence Hawa, Lisette, and Florian prepared a videorecorded presentation of their research project, which can be accessed via the link below.

In their research project, they used an app-based observation data collection tool. Below is a synopsis of the research project and the tool.

Project Information

In 2018, the team undertook a research collaboration with a global mining organisation, focusing on the wellbeing and productivity of the shift supervisors on one of their mine sites. To investigate this organisational issue, a project was designed in which shift supervisors were interviewed one-on-one to uncover which types of support and which hindrances they encounter in their jobs. Additionally, one of the members of the research team also shadowed a subset of nine supervisors, each individually for a full 12-hour day shift. The purpose of these observations was to investigate how supervisors tended to distribute their time across different tasks, and identify what improvements could be implemented to better support them in effectively carrying out their tasks.

How the research team used the Communication Analysis Tool (CAT) for shadowing

The Communication Analysis Tool (CAT) is a tool that was developed for researchers and practitioners alike, to facilitate the process of collecting and recording observation data. Originally made to observe communications in teams, the CAT can also be used to observe other behaviours, either in teams, or of individuals by themselves. Thus, to assist with the observational aspect of the research project, the CAT was utilised to enable easier data collection and analysis. To customise the CAT to meet the needs of the research project, four different task categories were created within the tool:

Further details for each observed task (e.g., who they spoke with, and for what purpose) were also recorded (see example screenshot below). The set-up of the tool enabled better accuracy for the data collection, as it automatically recorded the time duration for each observed task, in addition to allowing researchers to record notes for future reference.

Project Outcomes

Based on the data collected in this project, a comprehensive report was produced for the client organisation. In the report, the observation categories presented above were analysed and discussed in detail, to outline the variety, duration, and relative frequency of tasks that supervisors undertake in their everyday activities. The figure below is one of the many graphs included in the report, which shows the average number of tasks per hour for the four different task categories and overall, across all observed supervisors.

As can be seen from the figure, through the observations, several peaks in activity were identified for the different task types. For example, most interactions with others were at the start of the day (i.e., between the hours of 6 to 8 AM), a bit later in the morning (i.e., 9 to 10 AM), and again towards the end of the shift (i.e., 4 to 5 PM). Interactions with systems happened mostly in the afternoon (i.e., 4 to 5 PM). Juggling the highest number of tasks per hour occurs at the end of the shift, that is between 4 to 5 PM, as supervisors prepare for handover – and as handover is such a safety critical activity ideally other distracting tasks should be kept to a minimum.

Based on qualitative data from the one-on-one interviews, the types of support as well as hindrances experienced by the supervisors in their jobs were also communicated back to the management team. Combining findings from the observations, the interviews, and evidence from the scientific literature concerning time management, task switching, multi-tasking, work design, and human factors, recommendations were given to better help supervisors with their daily task load. The first report led to a request for additional analysis of the collected data, resulting in a second report, with a specific focus on frequent task switching. This was completed without further data collection, given the level of detail that was already captured using the CAT for the observations. Most of the recommendations from the two reports have since been implemented by the management team. The client’s satisfaction with the performed research and outcomes is reflected in the following quote from an e-mail from one of the project stakeholders, recommending our work to managers in other areas in their organisation:

“The end result gave us clear, comprehensive data, which identified a number of significant underlying issues faced by mining supervisors as well as possible solutions. […] The team do all the pre and post work from Perth, and their time on site last year was low impact [in effort required from people on site] and highly rewarding. I cannot recommend this well-oiled machine and wealth of knowledge highly enough.”

For more information on how to gain access to the CAT, please contact Florian Klonek at


Kanse, L., Muhammad Farid, H., & Klonek, F. (2020). Facilitating the tasks of observers and observees. In R. Charles & D. Golightly (Eds.), Proceedings of Contemporary Ergonomics & Human Factors Conference 2020 & the 13th International Symposium on Human Factors in Organisational Design and Management (ODAM2020) (pp. 332-333), 28-29 April 2020, Stratford-upon-Avon / virtual. Birmingham, UK: Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors.

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