There is a lot talk about ‘human element’ in the maritime industry; the human element, which lies at the heart of shipping, is blamed for the majority of the accidents, incidents and errors in the maritime industry. According to latest ‘Safety & Shipping Review’ conducted by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS), the human error accounts for 75% of marine losses of 15,000 marine liability insurance claims analyzed over five years by the insurance firm ($1.6bn). In this regard, the industry has taken significant steps to address human factor issues and UK MCA’s Deadly Dozen is one of them, unveiling the contributory factors that may result in failures at sea.
The human factor is said to be the most unpredictable factor; given that each individual has different understanding and behavior, people’s ability and capability to deal effectively and safely with the complexity, difficulty, pressures and workload of their daily tasks, not only in emergency situations but also during routine operations, can differ. UK MCA has analyzed twelve of the most common people related factors along with tips and learning points which, if managed effectively, have the potential to avoid and avert accidents, and make a dramatic improvement to maritime safety.
“Deadly Dozen provides a useful and pragmatic introduction to understanding aspects of human error in organisations and workplaces and ship owners, ship operators and managers, masters, officers and crews are encouraged to become familiar with its principles and practices” UK MCA noted.
Last year, the Port of London launched a safety campaign based on UK MCA’s Deadly Dozen, highlighting issues to be aware of when it comes to human factors, such as: habits, mindfulness, fitness for duty, ability and communication.
UK MCA concluded to these factors after analysis of near miss reports submitted to CHIRP Maritime from 2003 to 2015. An brief presentation of the twelve factors is following as well as a useful infographic which summarizes the important findings.
#1 Situational awareness
It is important to understand what is really happening and assess its impact on. In this context, always look out for problems; if you notice a problem, don’t ignore it; analyze it with your team. In order to have a picture of the situation, ask for input from your team members and communicate effectively. Make sure that procedures, risk assessments and checklists are up to date. However, keep in mind that good procedures and effective checklists it is possible to overlook or forget something. This is even more likely during times of stress, emergency or unusual conditions. Thus, focusing on creating a competent team and good teamwork are key priorities for everyone’s safety onboard!
In the complex world of maritime operations many things can go wrong. Speaking up in a timely manner can help avoid many accidents. This is particularly critical during emergency or high stress situations; therefore if you notice any problem, alert the appropriate team member. Be assertive is of outmost importance, however it is not easy for everyone as some people do not feel comfortable behaving assertively in the presence of more senior people. On the other hand, some senior people do not feel comfortable with junior people behaving assertively. Therefore, masters need to build an on-board culture which encourages crew members to alert to problems and create a culture where people are not afraid to speak up.
Poor communication can happen for a number of reasons; crew members onboard are coming from different nationalities and have different mother tongues, even different body language and gestures. Also, people have different language skills levels and in cases of emergency, they tend to revert to their mother tongue. Thus, seafarers need to work with their colleagues on board and dedicate time to understand each other. Open feedback can be useful as well; if someone looks puzzled or offended, discuss the issues with them and explain what you meant and ask why it puzzled or offended them.
This is an easy trap to fall into however just because everything appears OK, doesn’t mean that it is. There are many possible reasons and we are all susceptible to them. For example, the same work has been repeated satisfactorily many times in the past without incident. However, we need to consider that there is always possibility we might have forgotten something or the operator has insufficient experience or knowledge to recognize a change. In this context, use checklists effectively, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you don’t understand a situation and first and foremost: expect to find problems!
In terms of safety culture, the important aspects are those beliefs, attitudes and behaviours that improve or potentially compromise the safe operation of ships and the safety of everyone on board. Therefore, shipping organizations may implement a “Just Culture” as part of the overall safety culture; this is proven to work develop an effective accident and incident reporting and analysis process and always provide feedback to ships
Examples of Positive Safety Behaviors
- Constant vigilance and diligence
- Taking responsibility when detecting a safety issue, eg Alert the appropriate team member
- Prompt reporting of safety issues
- Taking prompt action
- Helping and guiding colleagues
- Suggesting changes in procedures to improve safety
#6 Local Practices
Correct behaviour and actions are fundamental to safety. Procedures and practices have been designed to ensure that work is carried out correctly, safely, legally and to the expected standard. However, it is impossible to write procedures to cover all eventualities. Also, actual local practices can vary from the expected procedures and behaviour. If it is not addressed effectively, this behaviour can become established as the new norm with a lower safety and quality threshold. Make sure only suitably qualified and experienced personnel are used. Use effective teamwork, including shore based experts for support, if necessary.
Effective teamwork means that people work together, sharing a common goal. A team that has a common purpose, shared mental model and communicates effectively and supports each other is much more likely to perform well and operate safely. Teamwork can be strengthened by participating in all shipboard activities, discussing issues with team members and use off-duty as well as on-duty opportunities to get to know your colleagues. Be prepared to listen and to contribute are two key principles for successful teamwork.
Competence is a blend of skills. Apart from the technical and professional skills which are required for each position, non-technical skills such as communication, teamwork and situational awareness are equally important and should not be ignored. High performing people are able to combine technical and non-technical skills successfully. A failure in either technical or non-technical performance can have a negative impact on ships’ performance, potentially leading to accidents.
Excess pressure usually involves too much work, but also includes meeting tight deadlines, schedules, port turn round times etc. This can be aggravated by changes to schedules, unexpected delays, additional port calls, changes to routes, crew changes, problems with weather and port inspections, all of which can lead to disturbed rest periods and long working hours which increase stress. Instead of taking risky short cuts to catch up on work, it is better to speak up if you are overloaded and ask for help if required. Masters need to address the symptoms and implications that stress and extensive pressure may have on each individual and be able to respond effectively to overload by encouraging, for example, crew members to suspend operations and recover.
Even if we are aware of possible distractions, it is easy to become distracted. Thus, it is recommended to declare a “red zone” whilst under pilotage or other times of difficult navigation. In this context, only allow essential communications in the “red zone”. Checklists remain one of the most useful tools to monitor your progress effectively and if you feel distracted during a task, go back two steps in the procedure before restarting. Also, if you notice someone being distracted, alert them. Always keep focused on the main task, and deal with non-essential distractions at a later time.
Latest MARTHA Fatigue Report revealed that fatigue has safety and long-term physical and mental health implications and long tours of duty (over 6 months) may lead to increased sleepiness, loss of sleep quality, reduced motivation which could contribute to ‘near-misses’ and accidents onboard. According to the report, night watch keepers are most at risk from falling asleep on duty, while captains feel stressed and fatigued at the end of their tours of duty and need recovery time. Simple operational solutions can ensure sleep is easier for those onboard through an effective fatigue risk management.
#12 Fit for Duty
In order anyone to carry out his/her duties safely, it is of outmost importance to be on a good physical and mental state. So far, the industry has successfully addressed the issue of wellness at sea in many ways; notestanding that this year, IMO’s Seafarer’s Day was dedicated to crew wellbeing; Nonetheless, each shipping organization need to develop a company Wellbeing programme and have policies and practices in place to ensure fitness for duty. Degraded fitness for duty, especially misuse of alcohol and drugs, is a major cause of accidents, particularly Person Overboard.
In the following infographic you can see more information regarding those 12 factors