Bigger ships carrying more crew and passengers also mean that the consequences will be bigger if something were to happen.

"Traditionally, the human factor has been the key to safe operations at sea," said Jonathan Earthy, principle human factor specialist at Lloyd's Register EMEA (LR). "We are looking at thousands of years of evolution. But now, the business requirements and the technological development are happening faster than evolution can cope.

"The human factor is as important as ever and we have launched a three-year program with the Nautical Institute, funding a newsletter, to raise awareness of the human element. The next step will be a more formal approach," Earthy said.
Det Norske Veritas (DNV) recently launched a new system of competence standards with the goal of ensuring that ships' crews from different countries and training institutions have a common, acceptable level of knowledge and skills.

While class societies have long offered standards for ship construction and ship operating systems, it is now time to also focus on the individual human element, according to Bjorgulf Haukelid, vice president and head of DNV Seaskill. "We see this as a logical step," he said. "If a cruise line has ships of high technical quality, and a well-run organization, they should also ensure that their people are competent and meet certain defined standards. Competency is the key factor to reduce the possibility for accidents," he said.

There are some regulatory requirements for deck and engine positions, but very few if any for the hotel department whose employees receive little safety training as well, according to Johan Oyen, director of cruise operations for the Norwegian Seamen's Union (NSU) and chairman of the International Transport Federation's Cruise Committee. Oyen would like to see mandatory and standardized safety training for all who work on cruise ships.

The United States Coast Guard (USCG) is offering a program addressing productivity and safety by seeking to manage the time of day when crew has the lowest energy and alertness levels, and by controlling endurance stress factors. Called CEM, for crew endurance management, the program is being applied by inland-river and coastal towing companies so far, according to Lieutenant Samson Stevens of the USCG Human Element and Ship Design Division.

When the experience is that everything goes well, it all becomes routine, and people forget about the risks, according to Bengt Schader, psychologist, director, partner, and senior management consultant at Marine Profile in Sweden. "Typically, in accidents, all the information that it would go to hell was there, but nobody interpreted the information that way. The key is to have a thorough safety culture," Schader added.

Competence Standards

According to DNV, the trend in the maritime industry is for ships' crews to be drawn from newer seafaring nations and to have examinations from training institutions of more recent origin. Another trend is the steady decline in accidents caused by mechanical causes, while those due to human error show an upward trend.

The DNV Standard for Certification of Learning Programs will be offered to training institutions and maritime academies worldwide. DNV will not provide the training, but will ensure that the content, the training process, and the results meet an acceptable, common level of set standards.

"We are already certifying training institutions," said Haukelid. "This is just one more step - certifying particular training courses too. People will receive a certificate of competence," he said.
At press time, DNV was working to set standards for electrical safety and marine installations. Haukelid said that there are no formal requirements for certificates for electricians working on ships, while the job has grown tremendously - ranging from maintaining PCs to huge electric power plants.

Shoreside, competence standards may be set for superintendents, according to Haukelid. "What does a good superintendent need to know?" he asked.

In the hotel department, the focus may be on hygiene and safety.

The standards are being developed by expert committees. The first committee was established in Miami with representatives from Royal Caribbean International, Norwegian Cruise Line, other commercial shipping lines, Star Center, the USCG and others. A committee has also been established in the Netherlands, and will soon be working in Scandinavia as well.

"Competence is a combination of knowledge, skill and attitude," said Haukelid. "Once the standards are set, they can also be measured. We can test knowledge through multiple choice tests; skills can be tested by demonstrations; and attitude can be assessed through individual's approach to their work.

"We can help the shipowners measure what their people can do," Haukelid added.

Safety, Hygiene, and Environment

"While the cruise lines offer their own training programs, there are no regulatory requirements for safety training for hotel department positions," said NSU's Oyen. "There are no formal regulatory requirements for sanitation, hygiene or environmental protection training," he added.

Oyen thinks there should be mandatory and standardized training for all who work on cruise ships, noting how deck and engine crew must undergo a 14-day safety course, including rescue training and firefighting.

There are no formal job requirements for cooks or bakers either, according to Oyen, who can imagine an apprenticeship program at sea, whereby people could work three to four years and earn certificates they can use for their continued employment at sea, or if they go ashore.

According to Oyen, cruise lines usually do not exceed 10-hour working days anymore, and the maximum service time is 10 months - although many lines would like to see shorter service periods to ensure that their staff stays fresh - while some workers would like to stay on longer to earn more money. "The average service period is eight months," Oyen said, adding that the bigger ships also tend to offer better crew facilities and more comfortable crew cabins.

Oyen, who noted that he is on DNV's expert committee in Miami, said that he would like to see defined minimum requirements for sanitation, environment, and safety officers.

Psychological Profile

"Sailing ships were complicated," said Marine Profile's Schader, "but they were easy to ‘read' for those who understood them. The new high-tech systems are not so visible or accessible."

Schader does not necessarily see a difference between equipment failure and human error. After all, the equipment has been designed by humans too, he pointed out. While incidents can have a number of causes, it is typically not just the operator who is at fault, according to Schader.

Fatigue is another factor. "People cannot do their best if they are tired," Schader said. "Medication and alcohol will also reduce the level of performance."

Stress is also a factor. "It is surprising how somebody can grow up as a ‘normal' boy in a small seaside community, whether in Norway or in Sweden, and end up as captain on a megaship - responsible for the safety of up to 5,000 people and a $700 million worth of hardware. "The risks at sea are the same as they always were, but the consequences are not," Schader pointed out.

Marine Profile tests officers' resistance to stress, leadership abilities, and maturity. "We make our judgement based on the shipowner's requirements," Schader said. "We do not recruit for positions, but we test people that our cruise line customers send to us. They may be new hires, or candidates for promotion.

"Everybody does not pass the tests," he said.

Citing one follow-up example, Schader said that of 450 people who were sent to Marine Profile for testing, 80 percent passed, and of those, the client was happy with 99.6 percent.

"It is reasonable to expect that a person who has a lot of responsibility must also have the resources and the support to get the job done," Schader continued. "For years, there has been much talk about the human factor, but nobody did much. Now people are starting to address the issue. If you look at shipping, the cruise industry is at the top in terms of safety - they recruit the top of the crop for officers.

"Imagine the biggest hotels floating at sea with up to 80 different nationalities working onboard of which a third is replaced every three months."

More Awareness

"If you trip over a threshold, the impact does not go beyond you," said LR's Earthy. "But if the offices on the bridge make misjudgements, the consequences can be very severe. It is important to understand what the consequences can be, and what can be done to address them.

"Going back to the mid-20th century, there was a 50/50 allocation of root causes between human error and equipment," Earthy continued. "Now the failure rate on the equipment side has decreased, so now we have more human error and less equipment failure. The conclusion is that we have to invest more on the human side.

"The point is to identify risks, design work systems, and put procedures into place to mitigate the risks," he said.

"It is not just down to class, owners, yards, regulators, or flag states. This is a problem everyone needs to address as a team to fully understand the consequences and to find solutions," Earthy concluded.

Excerpt from the Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Winter 2003-2004