Human Error

Human Error: The Human Element in The Maritime Industry

By now, most of us have studied the case of the Costa Concordia. 32 lives were lost and 157 were injured when the cruise liner capsized after hitting the Scole rocks and ripping a section of the hull. The captain deviated from the normal passage route to get closer to the Island of Giglio without considering the risk. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison and salvage efforts will cost Carnival Corporation approximately 1.5 billion Euros. Have companies learned from this? After all, the same could have happened to a freight ship or even worse, a tanker carrying 100,000 gallons of oil or petrochemicals. In another case it could have been a collision with another vessel or perhaps a fire and explosion. Human Error in any particular form has caused approximately 80% of marine accidents. However as the U.K. Chamber of Shipping’s Policy Manager Adrian Mundin said in his blog Human Error A Stubborn Problem on the Maritime Executive, “this statistic can be misleading since all have some human input ” The human element is the major part of the maritime system. It is this interaction between people, technology, organisational and environmental factors which make the maritime system. While each factor has its weak links, it is the human element and people interaction with each factor that create limitations. In the maritime system the most important factor is also the weakest link. Each factor in the maritime system has an effect or impact on the other when there is interaction. With people comes the limitations, whether it may be knowledge, skills and abilities, memory or alertness these limitations pave the way for the human factor issues in the industry today. The human element and eight aspects of human nature in the maritime system As humans, we try to make sense of everything we see, encounter and interact with, our senses will try to help us understand each situation that comes before us. When making sense of things we consider our personal needs or past experiences our goals and our beliefs. We take risk as there is always a level of uncertainty, we are guided by the amount of control we have, the value we place on something and how familiar we are with this. We all have to make decisions this is directly affected by us having to make sense of things. Two problems arise when a rational decision needs to be made, the available time and the information available. What differs from an expert decision and a novice decision is situational familiarity and situational awareness which is ‘what is going to happen’ and ‘what can happen next.’ People make mistakes, and as mentioned human error is the highest cause of marine accidents. Mistakes can be classed as skills-based, rule-based and knowledge-based activity. In case studies from past maritime accidents the findings indicates that the human factors that cause many accidents are fatigue, inadequate communication , inadequate general knowledge, inadequate knowledge of own ship system, poor designs of automation, decisions based on inadequate information, faulty standards and procedures being followed, poor maintenance and hazardous working conditions. Our batteries run low sometimes, we all get tired or stressed. Fatigue still plays a significant role in many marine incidents. Workload, sleep deprivation, diet, fitness, time of day and even the environment causes fatigue. Stress on the other hand is also caused by workload but fuelled by time pressure and difficulty of the task. We are always learning, gaining knowledge or acquiring skills whether it is formal or informal. Formal learning has a structured criteria and curriculum, informal is what we adopt from our colleagues and peers. In the marine industry seafarers will always work with others depending on the task or activity they may have to work with an individual or a team and this is determined whether the goals are individual or team-based. When working with teams or individuals communication is important. For successful human communication people must have different perspectives and a shared means to explore differences. On the other hand, human communication fails when differences between people’s understanding goes undetected or where there is insufficient time to resolve the differences detected.

The Maritime System

In most cases it is several human factors that will lead to a major accident. a typical example is a towing operation in a port where the tug boat collides with a container vessel. Inadequate communication between the vessel or the pilot and the tug master then leads to the decision based on inadequate information. In a similar scenario we have inadequate communication between the vessels or pilot and tug master who is nearing the end of his shift and is affected by fatigue and therefore his alertness is not at the level it should be for operations. It isn’t surprising just how common these trends are in everyday operations, after all the maritime system is managed and run by people who create the system’s success but through their vulnerabilities also potentially become victims of its failure. While recently speaking to a former captain with 40 years experience in the industry he mentioned that the maritime system and industry on a whole is an evolving one. This could not be more true, with technological advances, changes in the environment, amendments to legislation and tougher regulations as well as the influence of the global oil and gas market people find themselves having to keep up and adapt. The human element exists at every level in the maritime system, and therefore at every level there is need to adapt, from the seaman to the IMO heads. The eight factors are part of human nature or what makes us human, it can propel us to success or anchor us down to failure. Failure in the maritime industry can mean catastrophic accidents and devastating loss of life and property or irreversible environmental damage.