Human Factors and Errors

12 August 2020 By Ted Morley
Costa Concordia
Costa Concordia

Capt. Ted Morley was raised aboard a schooner and has made a career working on board vessels ranging from superyachts to super tankers. During his tenure at sea, he worked his way up from seaman to master. He currently holds a USCG Master’s License, Unlimited Tonnage as well as several foreign certificates. Capt. Morley actively participates in maritime advisory committees in the U.S. as well as overseas and is involved in regulatory policy review in the U.S.. 

Human error is commonly defined as a failure of a planned action to achieve a desired outcome. There are a variety of factors that can manifest that will increase the potential for these errors, especially when management tools and procedures aren’t followed. There are also various human errors that are inadvertently made during routine tasks, mistakes, or decisions made that were proven wrong. Then there are violations or deliberate deviation from the rules or procedures.

When a fatigued or ill crewmember proceeds to “work through it,” he or she is more likely to make small errors or omissions that can lead to an accident, injury, or environmental damage. An estimated 75 percent of marine liability losses are caused by human error — which insurance companies, operators, and industry stakeholders must address. Take the Costa Concordia’s grounding and subsequent loss in 2012, which was completely attributed to human error. The master failed to properly follow procedures, didn’t ensure a safe navigation route, and wasn’t clear on the specific hazards in the ship’s path. The bridge crew knew he was violating policy and procedures but failed to prevent or correct his mistake. Failures and errors after the initial grounding were proven during the subsequent court investigation, which added to the loss of life.

An estimated 75 percent of marine liability losses are caused by human error — which insurance companies, operators, and industry stakeholders must address. 

Regulatory requirements involving courses such as Human Element Leadership & Management and Bridge Resource Management are designed to give the mariner the requisite skills and perspective to create a local work environment on their vessel that traps errors rather than compounding them. Classroom-based theory training and simulator-based operational training are both key parts to the STCW Convention and are used to train and assess mariners in a variety of skillsets. Onboard training and drills remain vital to maintaining those skills. It’s imperative that organizational guidelines, manning levels, work scheduling, crew retention, regular and recurring training, and onboard procedures are all utilized to prevent human error — or mitigate the impact when they occur. There are other risk factors, including maintenance cutbacks, weather, and mechanical failures that can impact vessel safety.

The quality of officers and crews employed is a key factor for marine underwriters in assessing risks, as is crew training and retention. Companies that invest in policies that retain and encourage crew training will not only lower the risks of human error, but also increase crew satisfaction and create a better work environment.

This article originally ran in the August 2020 issue of Dockwalk.


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