Preventing personal injuries on board

In Hellas HiLights from UK P&I Club, Senior Loss Prevention Executive David Nichol wrote on the measures people should be taking to help prevent accidents and personal injuries occurring onboard.

He noted that personal injury incidents to crew members represented one of the largest categories of P&I claim, both in terms of frequency and cost.

He said that their impact was far-reaching, not just for the affected crew members, but also their families and dependents, for whom the seafarer might be the sole breadwinner.

He said that such incidents could also affect ship management staff, who might have known the seafarer and his family for many years. The very nature of sea-going life could be a contributory factor to the incidence of crew personal injuries as well as exacerbating their consequences when they did occur. Ships operated in a hostile environment, with ship motions depriving seafarers of the predictably stable platform for moving about and working that shore workers would take for granted. Sick bay equipment and medicines on board were basic and medical training of officers and crew was rudimentary. Furthermore, when an accident occurred, the ship might be many days away from professional shore medical facilities meaning that what might ordinarily be considered a relatively minor injury ashore could turn out to be life-threatening in the absence of timely medical intervention, Nichol said.

“Clearly the aim for all ship managers and crew must be to prevent accidents happening in the first place”, wrote Nichol. The concept of “zero accident” policies was sometimes derided as being unrealistic or unobtainable, but must nevertheless be something that the shipping industry strove for. However, reducing or eliminating accidents was not possible to achieve without having a full understanding as to why they occurred in the first place, he noted.

Nichol said that it was well-established that the large majority of accidents were attributable to human error, this rather broad term needed to be dissected to determine what factors were at work. He said that all people were prone to human failings which Nichol felt “must be overcome by a combination of nurture, cultural conditioning, learning, and vigilance”.

He claimed that it was within our evolutionary make-up to learn by our mistakes in order to survive.

As a starting point, wrote Nichol, a great challenge facing ship managers when recruiting seafarers was identifying applicants who possessed the right aptitude not just for the position but also for the peculiar demands and rigours of life at sea.

Recruits needed to be of the right character, fortitude and resilience to enable them to be happy, safe and successful seafarers.

Nichol said that “for all the noble aims of STCW, a criticism that is sometimes levelled at the system is that it can drive expectations of competence down to a lowest common denominator, rather than producing seafarers able to meet the demands of the modern shipping industry”.

Although deficient training, experience and knowledge gaps were undoubtedly a contributory factor to many accidents, Nichol observed that there were also numerous instances of seafarers making inexplicable or uncharacteristic errors, despite being well-trained and suitably experienced.

Nichol wrote that there were several examples of otherwise good crew making fundamental mistakes and thus endangering themselves and others due to the neglect to apply accumulated knowledge or follow documented procedures.

He said that the reasons why this occurred with alarming regularity were varied. They included complacency, lack of motivation or alertness, poor material resources or management support, pressure of time, conflicting and high work demands and fatigue. All of these could conspire individually or in combination to influence seafarers in not performing to the standards that they would normally expect of themselves.

A common feature of accidents was that, for cultural or other behavioural reasons, seafarers did not feel able or willing to challenge the decision making or actions of someone more senior in the shipboard hierarchy.

Nichol said that the development of a solid and enduring partnership between ship managers and sea staff was widely recognized as being an essential element in promoting safe and efficient shipboard operations as well as the commercial success of the enterprise.