Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Fatigue Issues for Freight and Passenger Shipping Should Be Addressed Now

EU Horizon Research Project Results Published
Shipping News Feature

EUROPE - WORLDWIDE – European road haulage operators are of course well used to a tachograph system designed primarily to ensure that drivers are refreshed enough to handle a truck often weighing it at 40 tonnes. In the wake of the costs in human and financial terms of the Costa Concordia disaster results just out from an EU funded research programme into the way watch keeping patterns can affect the tiredness of ships officers aboard vessels, whether they be passenger or freight carrying merchantmen, make interesting reading.

A thirty two month study, the Horizon Research Project, an 11-partner European research programme that brought academic institutions and shipping industry organisations together, with specialist input from some world-leading transport and stress research experts, released its findings today. The project provided detailed empirical data on the sleepiness levels of watch keepers working within realistic scenarios, enabling researchers to analyse the impact of sleepiness on decision-making, reaction times and other key elements of performance.

The project made pioneering use of bridge, engine room and cargo simulators to assess scientifically the impact of fatigue in realistic seagoing scenarios. A total of 90 experienced deck and engineer officer volunteers participated in rigorous tests at Chalmers University of Technology in Göteberg and at Warsash Maritime Academy at Southampton Solent University to measure their levels of sleepiness and performance during the most common watch keeping patterns – four hours on/eight hours off (4/8) and six hours on/six hours off (6/6). Some volunteers were also exposed to a ‘disturbed’ off-watch period, reflecting the way in which seafarers may experience additional workloads as a result of port visits, bad weather or emergencies.

Clear evidence of a marked deterioration in wakefulness was demonstrated by the study with the 6/6 schedules and disturbed off watch sleep patterns proved to be debilitating and have a profound effect with significantly high levels of tiredness with evidence that routine and procedural tasks could be carried out with little or no degradation, whilst participants appeared to find it harder to deal with novel ‘events’, such as collision avoidance or fault diagnosis, as the ‘voyages’ progressed.

The details of how the research was instigated, is available on a video link HERE provided by the Warsash Maritime Academy and project coordinator Graham Clarke commented:

“Seafarer fatigue is one of the biggest safety issues in the shipping industry, and this research has taken our understanding of the way in which the quality of sleep off-watch affects the sleepiness of watch keepers on watch to a new and much deeper level. It is hoped that the fatigue management toolkit will be a lasting legacy for the sector, providing a resource that, by establishing improved working patterns, will help to enhance the safety of ships and passengers, and the welfare of seafarers.”

The results of the study have been welcomed by seafarers union Nautilus International which represented European Transport Workers Federation interests on the project and a full list of participants is viewable at the foot of the report which can be viewed in its entirety on the Nautilus link HERE. Nautilus senior national secretary Allan Graveson said the Union welcomed the results and urged the shipping industry and those who regulate it to act on the findings adding:

“For the safety of life at sea, and the protection of the marine environment, they can not afford to ignore the results.”