One of the most famous accidents, the sinking of the RMS Titanic occured in April 1912, causing the deaths of thousands of people and costing millions in damages. Since then, shipping has made great progress in areas such as vessel engineering, navigational tools, and technology (Galieriková, 2019), so it would be easy to believe something like the Titanic sinking could not occur anymore. However, the reality is that almost to the day, a 100 years later, the Costa Concordia ran aground off an island in Italy, once again costing millions in damages and causing extensive environmental harm, as well as the deaths of several individuals. So, what do these two events have in common? What have we missed?
A study by the Allianz Insurance Group sheds some light on this question. Over 15 000 insurance claims over the span of 5 years were investigated to identify the causative factors in maritime accidents. The most important one? Human error. Human error was estimated to be involved in 75-96% of the accidents concerned. Although the causative factors in both Titanic and the Costa Concordia are likely complex, human error played an essential role in both incidents. So why has the shipping industry not been able to better understand and minimise human error in shipping?
Having a look at how other industries have attempted to gain insight into the effects of human error, one would likely encounter a model developed by Shappell and Wiegmann (2000) called the Human Factors Analysis and Classification System (HFCAS), which is strongly based on James Reason’s Swiss Cheese Model (1990). It can also be applied to the maritime field (Galieriková, 2019). In a study by Campara et al. (2021), the six categories that were found to be the most important in 135 maritime accidents investigated were the condition of the operator, the organisational climate and organisational processes, routine violations, inadequate supervision, and software. These six factors alone made up 52% of the contributory factors. Due to this large impact, these are also some of the factors the Scoutbase company focuses on strongly.
Scoutbase was founded to address the need for predictive data and information relating to causative factors in accidents concerning the working environment on board ships as well as the crew members functioning within such environments. The aim was to provide various stakeholders with valuable information that could then be used to prevent incidents and accidents from happening and build a safer, more productive working environment. Five years down the line, Scoutbase has grown to provide real-time, anonymous, and continuous data to shipping companies and customers, and thereby enabling a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to risk identification and minimization. Additionally, interventions and recommendations based on the analysis of the data collected have expanded the product into something that offers a clear identification of problem indicators as well as data-driven solutions to these, at an organisational and an individual level.
The Scoutbase technology is integrated into the crew Wifi on board and thus, does not require any app download or website access. This has resulted in a continuous engagement rate of more than 75% over the last few years. Any time crew members initiate an activity that requires internet connection, the Scoutbase mechanism is automatically triggered, and a short pop-up question will appear on the screen. Various levels of questions allow collection of quantitative as well as qualitative data, thereby further expanding the depth of understanding of the issues experienced at sea as well as allowing seafarers a safe space to voice their concerns and even possible solutions from their local rationality point of view. Due to the anonymous and confidential nature of the data, seafarers evidently display high levels of trust and honesty in the system. All data is then immediately fed into a cloud-based dashboard, where it is displayed in real time in a simple and clear manner. Any serious or minor concerns are calculated based on a threshold score and flagged accordingly. Data can be viewed across an entire fleet, per vessel, as well as for varying time spans. Most questions also allow free text responses, again providing more in depth and personal insights. In essence, Scoutbase is built to act as a warning system that is constantly analysing data for at-risk individuals, from a wellbeing point of view, or developing general trends on board a specific vessel or across the entire fleet. In the future, potentially even across the industry as a whole and thereby allowing a collective learning, which is unheard of today.
From further analysis of their data, Campara et al. (2021) claim that a 25% reduction in the strongest contributing categories, i.e., Organisational Climate and Software, maritime accidents could be reduced by a huge 27%. Scoutbase can be a valuable tool in identifying various factors which may be contributing to higher rates of incidents or even accidents. It is not unusual for accidents to be extremely costly in a commercial and human sense, but also ecologically and environmentally. Thus, there is a strong business case to be made for a service such as Scoutbase to minimise impending risks and maximise the wellbeing and functioning of the crew, which will have direct consequences for the operation of the vessel. Furthermore, through the provision of improved working conditions and environments, aspects such as the attraction and retention of skilled crew members would also be influenced positively in the long-term. The multicultural and multilingual nature of crew, often bringing with it a vast array of stereotypes, racial and cultural perspectives, issues such as communication difficulties, relational tensions and misunderstandings can often be further exacerbated by the environmental factors such as noise, stress, and high temperatures (Dominguez-Pery et al., 2021). Thus, Scoutbase may also allow companies to effectively assess these indicators and establish a working culture that is safer, supportive, and sustainable to seafarer wellbeing and health.
Technology within shipping will continue to develop in the next few years. However, humans and their skills and knowledge will remain the main driver of the maritime industry. To enhance the impact of the human workforce further, we need to create an environment that is suited to do so. Scoutbase is here to further the understanding of how to do this impactfully.
Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty. (2017). An annual review of trends and developments in shipping losses and safety. Safety and Shipping Review, 44 pp.
Čampara, Leo & Vujicic, Srdjan & Hasanspahić, Nermin & Francic, Vlado. (2021). The Role of the Human Factor in Marine Accidents. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering. 9. 1-16. 10.3390/jmse9030261.
Dominguez-Péry, C., Vuddaraju, L.N.R., Corbett-Etchevers, I. et al. (2021) Reducing maritime accidents in ships by tackling human error: a bibliometric review and research agenda. J. shipp. trd. 6, 20. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41072-021-00098-y
Galieriková, A., (2019). The Human Factor and Maritime Safety. Transportation Research Procedia, 40, 1319–1326
Reason, J. (1990). Human error. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Shappell SA, Wiegmann DA (1997) A human error approach to accident investigation: the taxonomy of unsafe operations. Int J Aviation Psychology 7(4):269–291.
ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: MADS RAGNVALD NIELSEN & ANNA WUCHER
Mads Ragnvald Nielsen is the CEO & Co-Founder of Scoutbase
Anna Wucher is a Product Manager at Scoutbase.
Scoutbase is a part of our Batch 1 Sustainability Program.
To find out more about our Sustainability Program, click here.