Some blame the 'human element' for all maritime incidents!
Virtualy ALL accidents or incidents can be blamed on
humans in one way or another either by design or operation.
Most collision incidents are good examples of ignorance in operation.
Take the example of 3 collisions with the sunken carrier 'TRICOLOR' on
the mouth of the River Schelde.
The cruiseship 'Van Gogh' has
collided with the laden double-hull tanker 'Spetses' in the Bay of
Navigation in ice in the Gulf of Finland following the path of
an ice breaker
Sadly 'maritime professionals' are a dying breed, the bottom line demanded by
some ship owners ensuring we get quantity, but there is little quality. The
industry is rapidly becoming a third world industry with third world standards,
not only in the operation of the ships but also the classification of ships.
This is still a dangerous job the ignorance of the many is still being kept
in check by the professionals. In the future this will change, as the number of
professionals declines below the border line. When that happens the maritime
casualty rate will soar and no amount of investigations or boards of inquiry
will reduce them.
Seamanship navigation and engineering are all dying arts, as ships become
more complex, seamen increasingly are being regarded as 'low-skill
For most the motivation at sea now is money and leave time, the short
turn-round times and pressure of work ensures that shore leave is very brief and
infrequent. The ethnic and cultural diversity limit social life on board of most
To add to the fact should you error as 'humans' do, you may become an
international criminal. If you do your utmost to seek refuge and have it denied,
in spite of international law for 'port of refuge' you are still condemned when
your ship goes to the bottom and held without trial.
Below a few errors in design or operation....?
The Human Element
Human error is
frequently recorded as the reason for some act or omission that leads to an
accident.As human endeavour is
involved in all stages of the design, building and operating of a ship we might
ascribe ‘human error’ to all such accidents, save those labelled ‘acts of God’
for want of any other likely source of blame.The human element concerned is
chiefly related to those who serve on board ships.The often quoted figure of 80% of
maritime accidents being caused by the human element relates mainly to the items
of omission or commission by seafarers and therefore measures aimed at improving
the performance of seafarers, should have the most direct effect on safety
performance. The STCW95 Convention and the ISM Code are important international
instruments aiming to improve the performance of the 'human element', in the
operation and management of ships and to impliment a ‘safety culture’
and ‘environmental conscience’
in those who operate ships.
Stress and Fatigue
Currently, the word ‘stress’ is often used to
explain a multitude of human shortcomings.Stress arises when demands, or the
workload exceed the physical and mental resources of the person. There are
marked variations in what is stressful and how an individual responds to
stress.For the seafarer, he (or
she) can go from one ship to another and change trades but the basic environment
does not change. The circumstances of being at sea itself brings about stress
due to the ‘abnormal’ lifestyle.
The attitudes of seafarers to 'a safe ship'
operation are determined by what happens on board and in the shipping company
and partially by values that predominate in the industry and its associated
administrations. The often ‘back and forth’ world of seafaring brings one major
and growing problem: fatigue.Fatigue has been recognised as a
contributing factor in many transportation and industrial accidents; however,
that connection is often difficult to realise because the direct links between
the unsafe acts and decisions which led to the accidents and the fatigue state
of the people involved are difficult to identify. Unlike alcohol and drugs,
which can be measured by, for example, blood or urine tests, there is no
unequivocal physical or chemical test that can tell us that a person is impaired
to a certain extent by fatigue.
Communication is an essential part of human
interaction. The benefits of effective communication are many and obvious as
they enhance all aspects of our personal and professional lives.Ineffective or misunderstood
communications in our personal lives may give rise to problems or embarrassment
but in our professional lives the results of misunderstandings may have much
more serious results.In the world
of international shipping, with seafarers from many countries sailing on ships
trading to all parts of the world, effective communication between those on
board and between ship and shore is extremely important.
analyses reports of casualties and accidents to see if there are any lessons
to be learned for the future.Many
accidents are found to be due mainly to operational issues of proper procedure,
maintenance and design, rather than to proper implementation of regulations but
effectiveness of bridge resource management and particularly ineffective
relationships between master, crew and pilots are recurrent themes.Communication difficulties often occur in
these areas, due, in part to cultural differences but also due to language
If the activities of those who work in the
shipping company ashore are not guided by safety principles they are unlikely to
thrive on board.Responsibility for
establishing the operational culture on board lies with the company and is
explicit in STCW and the ISM Code.The difficulty for the seafarer,
particularly the master at times, is maintaining the safety, the first
approach in the face of pressures outside of the ship and shipping company.Pressures from port authorities, pilots,
loadingmasters, agents, vetting inspectors and others with an interest
in the ship and its cargo but not necessarily with such a direct interest in the
safety of the crew.Clear and
unequivocal guidance and support from the shipping company as required by both
STCW and the ISM Code are vital to maintain the safety culture on board in the
face of these pressures.
The essence of safety management is taking the
safe approach rather than the quickest, easiest or cheapest.When faced with a task to
be completed or an objective to be met the seafarer must make decisions on
the information available using sound principles and procedures to guide him, or
her.Once developed and implimented
into everyday operations, safety management has to be maintained. The STCW
requirements and responsibilities of shipping companies, coupled with
the requirements in the ISM Code, should ensure that the working environment on
board is a safe one.The ISM Code
objectives of continuous improvement in safety management skills should
establish the climate for an on-going commitment to safety.In this climate the well-trained and
professional seafarer can properly adopt the safety culture which is so
necessary to make the shipboard and shipping company
In the shipping industry today, there is an
emerging ‘zero tolerance’ for accidents.Perhaps surprisingly, the increased
public opposition (in OECD countries at least) to maritime accidents is not due to
the loss of human life, but damage to the marine environment. Witness the
significant political fall-out in France, Spainand the EU following
both the ERIKA and the PRESTIGE incidents. Whether we like it or not,
we have to tackle seriously the real causes of accidents. The marine insurance
industry, the legal profession and accident investigators can help accelerate
the process by broadening their focus beyond financial loss and seeking to
blame, to take human factors into account and to ask not only ‘what went
wrong’ but also ‘why it went wrong’. This will not
only be good for their conscience, but will also assist in real improvements to
safety within the industry.
Though automation is increasingly able to control
the machine in the man-machine system, it is the human being that is responsible
for recognising, interpreting, compensating and correcting the consequences of
deficiencies, failures and malfunctions in the machine and, ironically, also in
other human beings.
It is therefore the human being and the
influences on performance on which we have to focus our attention.Control of the 'human element' is some
way off, but at least we are now beginning to appreciate the importance of the
'human element' and taking appropriate steps to improve their performance.