Human error is the single most serious threat to maritime safety. As Human Factors are considered a primary contributing factor to incidents and accidents it conversely offers the potential to contribute significant improvements to maritime safety. The term human factor refers to the wide range of issues affecting how people perform tasks in their work and non-work environments.
The study of human factors involves applying scientific knowledge about the human body and mind, to better understand human capabilities and limitations so that there is the best possible fit between people and the systems in which they operate. Human factors knowledge can be used to reduce the likelihood of errors and at the same time build more error tolerant, and therefore more resilient, systems. Human factors are the social and personal skills (for example, communication and decision making) which complement technical skills, and are important for safe and efficient Maritime operations. Safety management systems need to manage all areas of risk including those that increase the likelihood of human error. V
essel operators should have an understanding or receive training in human factors as part of minimising the likelihood and impact of human error. The goal is to minimise the likelihood of human error and to maximise performance to improve the overall safety of the system. There is a clear cost benefit for organisations in managing human factors and designing systems to be user-centric. Reducing the likelihood of error can have substantial cost savings in terms of reduced down-time, repair work and reduction in injury to personnel. Ultimately, reducing error reduces the likelihood of accidents.
Marine incidents are usually the cause of humans, either by their actions, inactions or inadequacy of those actions. Actions or inactions are determined by a number of factors. While the quality of the individual is a key factor, the quality of the design of the vessel, the quality of the construction of the vessel, the quality of the equipment and the quality of operation are equally important. While it is relatively easy to determine human failings that are directly attributed to those on board, those that are a consequence of a failure of a management regime, or inadequate design and construction are much more difficult to distinguish. If regulators are included, it could be argued that almost 100% of marine casualties are as a consequence of human failings.
While natural disasters could be considered outside human control, adverse weather conditions should never be used as an excuse for the loss of a vessel, including ‘abnormal waves’. Human factor issues are therefore complex and need to be carefully analysed, but more importantly, recognized if there are to be any significant improvements in safety at sea.
Human factors issues need to be examined and not confined solely to seafarers. However, seafarers are the starting point. Issues that affect them need to be addressed. Then we would truly be addressing human factor issues.
Ocean Time Marine has developed a Safety Management System (SMS) Software / Template and various other tools to assist commercial vessel operators in writing a SMS.