An understanding of what makes human error less likely lies at the heart of loss prevention

Whenever there is an accident on board ship you can be sure of one thing: human error will be to blame. Understanding the full implications of this fundamental truth lies at the heart of loss prevention at all P&I Clubs, and how they ensure that lessons are absorbed so that mistakes are less likely

Whenever there is an accident on board ship you can be sure of one thing: human error will be to blame. Understanding the full implications of this fundamental truth lies at the heart of loss prevention at all P&I Clubs, and how they ensure that lessons are absorbed so that mistakes are less likely in future.

Clubs in the International Group receive approximately 35,000 claims a year, providing a tremendous bank of data. Whilst of course it varies from club to club, the rough breakdown of number of claims goes like this:

  • 50% cargo damage

  • 30% personal injury

  • 10% collision (including fixed and floating objects)

  • 2% pollution

  • 8% other (including wreck removal/fines)

The way Clubs use this data affects pretty much everything that they do: their loss  prevention programmes, their advice to members and their underwriting decisions, to name but a few of the most important. It is vital, therefore, to have a true understanding of these statistics and the factors that influence them.

When analysing a claim (or accident) the root cause is invariably human, whichever way you may wish to look at it. Even claims where there has been mechanical failure, more often than not it is down to a human error, omission or possibly a design failure.

Human failings include poor management and supervision, planning, training, motivation and leadership, communi- cation or a combination of these. They can all lead to making mistakes or wrong decisions, taking risks or not complying with procedures. It is a complex assess- ment; for example an incident apparently caused by tiredness could be as a result of management not supplying adequate resources or poor planning or leadership.

How you record this data is of critical importance. To produce the consistency and accuracy required, the ‘in-putters’ of the data need the skills to accurately assess the ‘human element’ aspects of the claims. Most P&I claims executives, due to the nature of the positions, are trained

legally and therefore are not ship safety and operational experts. This is why Clubs ensure that they also have staff skilled in identifying what actually happened in practice whenever there has been an accident: who did what, why and with what consequences.

Loss prevention managers are usually ex- seafarers who have a good knowledge of ship management and operations, so can identify the different ways in which humans might cause accidents. They also need the skills to develop loss prevention programmes for individual shipowners, for the members of their respective clubs and also, in a general sense, for the shipping industry as a whole.

Finally, we should not forget near-misses, which can also be an important tool in accident prevention. Unfortunately, just as mistakes are human so is the desire to conceal them. Near-misses are too often under-recorded and little analysed, especially outside the oil and gas sectors. This is a cause for regret, because the more that shipowners understand the human aspects of their operations the safer they will become.

Chris Spencer is Director of Loss Prevention at the Standard P&I Club: www.standard-club.com