The Art of Dredging

Dredging and shipping

"Human Error in the Maritime Industry" - book review

"Human Error in the Maritime Industry, How to Understand, Detect and Cope"  

by Bengt Schager, Breakwater Publishing, published by Marine Profile Sweden BA, can be ordered through 

186 pages, © 2008

Fact: about 80 % of all maritime accidents are due to human errors.

"Human error" may be a painful subject for most professional mariners. A lot of us are still in a state of denial on the subject of human errors, and a lot of shipping companies do not practise a "no-blame culture", in which a human error is seen as impersonal, and a learning experience for all. This is a very modern approach.

The established view in most companies was -and still is- that a human error is a personal failure and a reason for dismissal. This may be a shortcut; jumping to conclusions. Without a proper investigation of accidents, valuable lessons concerning the deeper reasons for human failure may be missed.

Bengt Schagter  is a "maritime psychologist". Raised my eyebrows: a maritime psychologist.... What's next ? A shrink onboard ? (*)

The book is intended for maritime professionals, and as a textbook in human error and human performance, and is useful reading for everybody in charge of a ship, or a watch. It's the only book available specific on this subject.

"Human error" is defined as " ... when things go wrong in spite of of individuals' deliberate efforts to avoid perils ...". From perception to action; humans are imperfect in decoding facts and acting on them. Mechanism in our mind may block data, may render us immobile, or unwilling to act upon incomplete information, upon emotionally charged situations, etc...  Humans often lack in logical thinking and have a limited attention span.

Technology may be brought in to relieve human operators from repetitive tasks, but technology itself is liable to failures, and the MMI (man Machine Interface) may bring more complications.

The author touches further upon the value of experience, upon complacency, situational awareness, teamwork, stress, etc ...

The pitch of the whole book may be rather dull, but is interlaced with case studies from high-profile maritime accidents (a.o. Estonia, Torrey Canyon, Tricolor, ...) to illustrate some points.

This book makes us acutely aware of our deficiencies as shiphandlers. Humans can be victims of their own mental processes. Being aware of this problem is 50% of the solution. And the book points the way towards further solving the problem.

Conclusion: worth reading.

Marc Van de Velde 


(*)  When asked for comments on this book review; mr. Bengt Schager replied "cheek-in-tongue", in answer to my remark about "schrinks onboard":

(...) Regarding "maritime psychologists" I have to add that in the aviation industry there are hundreds of aviation psychologists over the world working as experts on human error and human/machine interface and also a body under IATA (aviations equivalent to IMO) for member aviation psychologists. Space industry has their own psychologists and so has also road traffic and railway traffic, often organized or employed by national authorities.
Maritime psychologists are still quite few but it is important that different professional knowledge  blend together to counteract human error. Maybe some day, also the IMO would like to organize and create a body for maritime psychologists and thus to support research and contacts between professionals in this field. 
After all, it is more of a challenge to take a cruise liner over the Atlantic than a Boeing 747 and also to take on leadership for 15 or some men from an equal number of nationalities over a three month period, than managing 5 aviation colleagues for 16 hours and then never see them again. (...)
(...) I have also tried to not only point at errors made by humans but also the reasons behind, our psychological make up. Better to adapt to reality than fighting it. (...)
Bengt Schager

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