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Human Factors and Risk Management in Marine Navigation Report (Assessment)


Human factors are an important point when considering risk management in marine navigation. One of the problems associated with human factors in marine navigation is fatigue among bridge team members. Researchers who reviewed thousands of cases of accidents in marine navigation concluded that fatigue was “the direct cause of the accident or a factor contributing thereto” due to “the falling asleep of the watch officer or a decrease in alertness due to fatigue” (Finland 2008, p. 5).

According to John et al. (2013), fatigue is not an infrequent phenomenon among the personnel employed in marine navigation, and this is especially the case for bridge team members, due to the peculiarities of the maritime profession and the increased and sometimes uncontrolled workloads they often face. Seafarer fatigue throughout the shipping industry has currently become a global concern, due to its potential economic and environmental costs. The following project aims at researching the causes of the problem of fatigue in bridge team members, and offering the solution for this problem, along with the significance and challenges of implementing this solution.

Human Physiology and Anthropometry

The probability of fatigue in maritime occupations is considerably increased, due to the influence of factors specific to this field of industry. Adaptation and the ceiling effect are the most influential of these factors (Smith & Allen 2012, p.16). According to Smith and Allen (2012), another contributing factor is the fact that “Excessive working hours are a problem in the seafaring industry, hidden by the fact that a concerning number of crew falsify audited records” (p. 16). Remarkably, these researchers have also found that the workers who repeatedly work even a couple of hours more are subjected to a greater risk of fatigue (Smith & Allen 2012).

According to Smith (2015), “fatigue is a leading cause or contributing factor in, maritime accidents, collisions, and groundings” (p. 1). Increased fatigue in crew members onboard results not only in accidents but in mental and physical health issues that, in turn, become further contributing factors to the elevation of risks (Finland 2008).

Human physiology peculiarities explain why bridge team members can be at times affected by attacks of fatigue, even if their health is good (Chauvin et al. 2013). First of all, fatigue is a common problem for all workers who are employed in the marine industry, because of the reaction of the human body to a prolonged presence on the open sea and being away from the mainland for long periods (Finland 2008). Also, fatigue can increase due to insufficient quality of nourishment, and poor air quality on the bridge (John et al. 2013). This is especially the case during the winter months when a sufficient supply of fresh fruits and vegetables is impossible in many regions.

Therefore, sailors may suffer the lack of necessary nutrients, and as a result, their blood will have a decreased ability to carry oxygen. This development in body functioning patterns leads to increased fatigue, due to the accumulation of carbon dioxide in body tissues and organs (Finland 2008). Air quality is another issue that may cause fatigue, due to similar causes. Since air quality affects the ability of the body to provide the blood with oxygen, polluted air may cause fatigue because of the accumulation of carbon dioxide in tissues and organs (Lützhöft et al. 2010).

Next, fatigue in bridge team members may also be caused by insufficient sleep. Finland (2008) supports this statement, saying, “In addition to physical health, sleep affects all three sub-areas of psychological functioning: action, cognition, and emotion” (p. 2). Sleep has a central role in refreshing the body’s organs and tissues and supplying them with sufficient oxygen and necessary supplements. It is only during the stage of rest, during sleep, when renewal processes may take place in the human organism; therefore, mariners should have enough sleep (John et al. 2013).

Moreover, the sailors’ need for sleep is even more significant because of the limitations that staying away from the mainland places on body functioning and renewal mechanisms (Finland 2008). It is remarkable that “several studies have indicated that marine accidents take place more often at night than during the day” and “45% of the collisions of vessels take place between midnight and 6 a.m.” (Finland 2008, p. 4). This is another proof of the fact that to avoid safety risks, bridge team members need sufficient sleep because the incidence of accidents is considerably higher at night. Based on the results of these studies, a growing number of specialists suggest that night shifts for bridge team members should be shorter than daytime shifts to avoid additional risks of becoming unobservant and drowsy.

Information Processing and Cognition

Information processing and cognition are other important factors that influence risk management activities in the marine navigation industry. Affected by fatigue, bridge team members lose their ability to process information with full alertness (Collins, Matthews & McNamara 2000). Other negative factors that affect the mariners’ ability to process information effectively and have their cognition ability working at full capacity are “excessive working hours, insufficient rest periods and high workload” leading to “sleep deprivation, fatigue, stress, mental and physical health problems, poor performance efficiency and compromised safety onshore” (Collins, Matthews & McNamara 2000, p. 5).

Information processing and cognition are closely connected with task risk assessment. Task risk assessment is one of the most effective strategies to be currently applied in many industries to promote safety and avoid accidents (‘The risk assessment guide’ 2007). Hence, to increase the effectiveness of Information processing and cognition in marine navigation, bridge team members need to be trained to utilize task risk assessment strategies.

Occupational Stressors

The maritime profession is known for its romantic reputation by the wider public; however, in reality, this profession remains among the most hazardous of occupations. In practice, seafaring is connected with numerous problems and complexities. The vast majority of unanticipated hazards are connected with organizational and human factors (Ek, Runefors & Borell 2014). First of all, due to economic issues, the owners of ships and transport companies tend to economize on employee payment, and therefore, the problem of insufficient manpower arises. According to Smith and Allen (2012), “a combination of minimal manning, sequences of rapid port turnarounds, adverse weather conditions and high levels of traffic may find seafarers working long hours and with insufficient recuperative rest” (p.16).

Next, a large number of problems in the profession are associated with accidents that “result from a compounding sequence of breakdowns in physical components, human error, and organizational failures” (Ek et al. 2014, p. 179). To cope with this group of problems, numerous technologies, and an increased rate of automation is used to amplify safety and efficiency in the marine navigation trade. The outcomes of these measures are ambiguous since human-automation interaction is also associated with safety problems and the possibility of error (Ek et al. 2014). According to Elk et al. (2014), “the human role in the system is complex since a person’s characteristics and states, abilities and competencies affect decision-making and performance onboard” (p. 180).

Organizational omissions are also among the most significant occupational stressors. Many factors may lead to organizational breaches, including managers’ negligence and blunders. Other problematic situations are emphasized in the following comment by Elk et al. (2014): “conflicting safety and production goals, ineffective communication, time pressure, and fierce competition in a complex industry environment (p. 180).

From my personal professional experience, organizational failures may at times result in tragedies. A poor safety culture once led to the loss of five lives in a marine team, when a fire in the machine department unexpectedly broke out because the company management violated fire safety measures to economize, and preferred to solve any problem with the fire safety inspector by offering him “a small gift”. This sad experience demonstrates how important the culture of safety is for risk management in the marine industry.

Change, Leadership, and Culture

The problem identified in this project can be significantly improved with the help of a multi-faceted strategy that incorporates a combination of human factors interventions, including leadership, culture, personnel selection and training, equipment and machine design, and environmental design. According to Elk et al. (2014), “a safety culture reflects individual, group and organizational attitudes, values, and behaviors concerning safety” (p. 180). Safety leadership relates to formal hazard prevention practices and precisely documented responsibilities regulating a safety promotion system (Pearson 2009).

A safety culture, supported by both the management and team members, is a guarantee of increased safeness on board. Industry experience suggests that the companies that have a well-elaborated culture of safety, with a proactive approach to hazard management, are likely to have fewer accidents and other safety problems (Levoli 2004). At that, safety culture should become the dominant ideology on vessels, and in the marine shipping industry as a whole. A company with an effective safety culture is aware that a culture of safety is an aspect of business management that is as important as any other aspect, including financial planning and operational management (Hollnagel 2002).

The team leader on board can significantly improve the problem of fatigue among subordinates by utilizing the following approach: (1) ensure precise recording of working hours, (2) conduct fatigue management information campaigns and provide regular fatigue management training and safety announcements, and (3) develop a specific tool for fatigue rate assessment and make sure that any team member diagnosed with significant fatigue does not engage in work activities with increased rates of risk.

Precise recording of working hours is crucial for planning team members’ work activities. The owners of maritime businesses mistakenly consider the practice of inducing workers to work longer hours an option that will help them economize and increase profits. However, in reality, such a mistaken position leads to tragedies and actual loss of profits in wrecked vessels and lost cargos (Staal 2004). Therefore, it is in the best interest of maritime shipping business owners to make sure that team leaders utilize a precise technique for recording the working hours of all members in the team, and make sure that those workers with extra hours are not assigned risky tasks until they are refreshed.

Conducting fatigue management information campaigns and providing regular fatigue management training and safety announcements are important to make maritime workers aware of the risks they take if they perform hazardous activities while fatigued. From my professional experience, people in maritime professions are strong in spirit and like to think that fatigue is for the weak. Therefore, they need education on the signs of fatigue and need to be informed about the risks associated with it.

The challenges linked with this proposed intervention are increased economic costs and the need to invest considerable time and labor resources in the initiative implementation. It may seem in the beginning that precise recording of working hours is utterly difficult under marine navigation conditions; however, the value that this measure offers for risk prevention significantly exceeds the expenses attached to its enactment. Also, to accomplish these measures, a wise approach to manning will be needed, and more funds will need to be invested, as well, in paying the workers’ wages. However, the acquired benefits are much higher than the requisite funds.

Human Error

The probability of human error is highly increased when team members on board suffer from fatigue (Oldenburg, Hogan & Jensen 2013). Human error is thus one of the key factors contributing to risk elevation in marine navigation. Human error is also a frequent cause of vessel equipment and technological failure, due to improper decision-making (Reason 2013). According to Reason (2013), human error management is a complex task that needs the right approach.

As one scholar said, “We cannot change the human condition, but we can change the conditions under which humans work” (p. 759). Reason (2013) argues that human error management in marine navigation requires managing complex technologies that help to avoid big failures crippling an organization’s effectiveness. He also believes that an organization needs to mind the periods of peak demand, to maintain sufficient capacity to manage error (Reason 2013).

Therefore, risk management arrangements need to address human error as one of the major risk factors affecting employee performance and increasing safety risks. To manage human error, the bridge team leader needs to spend sufficient time in educating team members and training them to control hazardous situations and develop the right behavior strategy in times of emergency (Havold 2000). Overall, the level of education and training for marines is the major determinant of human error prevention in the given field.

From my professional experience, the incidence of human error, as well as the incidence of serious accidents with far-reaching outcomes, is far less when bridge team leaders conduct morning company instruction to inform team members about upcoming types of activities planned for the day and warn about possible threats resulting from working with certain types of equipment or navigating in certain areas with the possibility of shoals or reefs.

Further, managing human error is closely connected with the availability of well-elaborated safety regulations addressing behavior, subordination, dealing with emergencies, and normalized onboard equipment (Frostberg, Bengtsson & Cardfelt 2003).

Besides, bridge team members need decision support and navigation systems capable of proving real-time predictions and alerts (Frostberg et al. 2003). Other effective solutions for managing human error are the use of multiple and heterogeneous positioning systems such as satellite-based sensors, synthetic aperture radar, airborne radar, ARPA, Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), AIS, and Long Range Identification System (LRIT) (Chauvin et al. 2013). More effective suggestions for human error management in marine navigation proposed by Chauvin et al. (2013) are port control, a generalization of vessel traffic monitoring, automatic communications, and search and rescue systems.

The Principles of Risk Assessment and Risk Management

Risk management practice in marine navigation entails not only formal rules and regulations but also risk management culture (‘The risk assessment guide’ 2007). Indeed, rules and regulations on board are not enough to bring individual motivation into line with the members of the organization (Reason 2013).

In other words, the culture of risk should begin from the team management level and trickle down to the most junior of employees. The risk control partners should also be involved in the decision-making process. Besides having a culture of risk management, risk reporting is equally important as a sound risk management practice (‘The risk assessment guide’ 2007). The structure put in place for risk reporting matters a lot. Predictions are therefore normally based on historical data, and supplemented with confidence intervals of possible results.

Therefore, if the available data is inadequate and unreliable, risk managers should find alternative ways of evaluating risk instead of relying on model estimates (‘The risk assessment guide’ 2007). Alternative risk assessment techniques may include qualitative judgments, which can either complement or replace quantitative analysis (Reason 2013).

Next, the inter-relationship among different types of risks during crises or accidents requires risk managers to know for sure the exposure across all arms of the vessel team (Reason 2013). There is a necessity for a full bridge team risk examination that can lead to risk growth. Understanding incentives is thus a major step in addressing any organizational puzzle (Reason 2013). Nevertheless, there have been doubts about current practices in risk assessment and risk management in marine navigation, included those related to team members’ pay (Reason 2013).

The risk measures used by the best performing maritime organizations include multiple tools, notional measures, value-at-risk, and basis risk evaluation tools. As a result of uncertainty surrounding the accuracy of assumptions underlying their risk measures, some organizations in the industry revisited simple notational limits to emphasize potentially risky situations (‘The risk assessment guide’ 2007).


In conclusion, it should be pointed out that fatigue in bridge team members is one of the most complicated problems associated with risk management in marine navigation. Potential consequences of fatigue are increased collision risks, accident risks, environmental damage, poor performance on the part of team members, and economic costs. Therefore, the significance of the problem of fatigue in bridge team members can hardly be underestimated.

Moreover, fatigue is a direct factor that jeopardizes the goals of human factors management, such as reducing error, increasing productivity, improving comfort, and enhancing safety. The causes of fatigue in mariners are closely connected with human physiology, since staying away from the mainland is one factor that can result in chronic fatigue, and in combination with other contributing factors, makes this problem especially significant.

Additional reasons that contribute to fatigue development are frequent extra working hours common to bridge team members, poor air quality, chronic stress, insufficient nutrition, insufficient rest, and insufficient sleep. To cope with the existing problem of fatigue, a multi-faceted approach is needed that will incorporate a combination of human factors interventions including personnel training, equipment, and machine design, job and task design, and environmental design.

The significance of implementing the offered approach is huge, since fatigue in bridge team members leads to thousands of deaths annually, and results in colossal financial losses due to accidents, cargo loss, and environmental disasters. The major challenges in implementing the proposed solution are lack of funds and the necessity of incorporating greater manpower resources. Understandably, company owners try to minimize company disbursements about personnel wage payment, and as a result, fewer employees than actually needed are employed, with fewer than expected efforts to promote their safety.

However, company owners need to revaluate their approach, because the savings in employee wages do not cover their losses due to the loss of their equipment, cargo, and what is more important, their reputation in the eyes of partners and customers.

Reference List

Chauvin, C, Lardjane, S, Morel, G, Clostermann, J & Lingard, B 2013, ‘Human and organisational factors in maritime accidents: Analysis of collisions at sea using the HFACS,’ Accident Analysis & Prevention, vol. 59, pp. 26-37.

Collins, A, Matthews, V & McNamara, R 2000, ‘Fatigue, health & injury among seafarers & workers on offshore installations: a review,’ SIRC/Centre for Occupational & Health Psychology.

Ek, Å, Runefors, M & Borell, J 2014, ‘Relationships between safety culture aspects–A work process to enable interpretation,’ Marine Policy, vol. 44, 179-186.

Finland, A 2008, ‘Factors contributing to fatigue and its frequency in bridge work,’. Multiprint OY, vol. 79, pp. 122-37.

Frostberg, C, Bengtsson, B, & Cardfelt, M 2003, ‘Investigation and risk assessment in systematic work environment management—a guide,’ SOLNA Work Environment Authority publication services. The Swedish Work Environment Authority.

Havold, J 2000, ‘Culture in maritime safety, maritime policy & management,’ The Flagship Journal of International Shipping And Port Research, vol. 27, no. 1, pp. 79-88.

Hollnagel, E 2002, ‘Cognition as control: A pragmatic approach to the modelling of joint cognitive systems,’ IEEE Journal of Systems, Man and Cybernetics, vol. 10, pp. 1-23.

John, P, Brooks, B, Wand, C & Schriever, U 2013, ‘Information density in bridge team communication and miscommunication—a quantitative approach to evaluate maritime communication,’ WMU Journal of Maritime Affairs, vol. 12, no. 2, pp. 229-244.

Levoli, A 2004, ‘Report on the investigation of the grounding of the Italian registered chemical tanker,’ Report.

Lützhöft, M, Dahlgren, A, Kircher, A, Thorslund, B, & Gillberg, M 2010, ‘Fatigue at sea in Swedish shipping—a field study,’ American Journal Of Industrial Medicine, vol. 53 no.7, pp. 733-740.

Oldenburg, M, Hogan, B, & Jensen, H 2013, ‘Systematic review of maritime field studies about stress and strain in seafaring,’ International Archives Of Occupational And Environmental Health, vol. 86, no. 1, pp. 1-15.

Pearson, M 2009, ‘ISM and risk. Some important links between the ISM code and effective risk management,’ Seaways, vol. 11, pp.10-12.

Reason, J 2013, A life in error: from little slips to big disasters, Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., London.

Smith, A & Allen, A 2012, ‘Seafarers’ fatigue–the impact of the Cardiff research programme and film,’ In Contemporary ergonomics and human factors 2012: Proceedings of the international conference on ergonomics & human factors 2012, pp. 16-19. London: CRC Press.

Smith, A 2015, ‘Crew, manning, and fatigue,’ Navigation accidents and their causes, Nautical Institute, London, pp. 1-7.

Staal, M 2004, ‘Stress, cognition, and human performance: A literature review and conceptual framework,’ The NASA STI Program Office.

‘The risk assessment guide’ 2007, pp.1-40.

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