Tackling maritime accidents with better ship design
The FAROS project proposes updated ship designs that address such issues as crew fatigue, sea sickness and stress – all of which can lead to catastrophic accidents, injuries and even death.
Did you know that the majority of maritime accidents are caused by human error? Although steps have been taken to remedy this, their scope tends to be limited to implementing safety management systems (SMS). And although an SMS can go a long way in decreasing the number of human-caused accidents, they fail to address other, more fundamental design factors such as a ship’s motions, noise and vibration levels – all of which have a substantial impact on human performance.
The EU-funded FAROS project changed this, tackling human error in the maritime environment by integrating human reliability into ship design. Using a Risk-Based Design approach, the project demonstrated how to design ships that are safe, economical, environmentally friendly and capable of reducing human error-based accidents in a cost effective manner.
A changing industry
“The crux of the problem lies with the changing nature of the shipping industry,” says Research Project Manager Romanas Puisa. “Twenty-five years ago the average cargo ship was run by a crew of 40 or 50 people. In contrast, today’s larger and more complex ships have an average crew of only 22 – factors which may greatly increase the chance for human error and accidents.”
Puisa says that over the past five years there have been 673 injuries and fatalities on cargo ships. Furthermore, 82% of all accidents that resulted in a fatality were caused by human error. “Most of these errors happen while a crew member is moving around the ship or carrying out maintenance work and other ordinary tasks,” explains Puisa.
Focusing on design
Past research tackled this issue by addressing the ergonomics of human-machine interfaces such as bridge design. The FAROS project, however, took a different approach and instead focused its attention on more global design features that that are determined early on – features that could have an impact on human reliability during the execution of routine tasks. For example, Puisa says that a ship’s back and forth rocking motion, vibration, noise and generally cramped quarters can cause crew fatigue, stress and motion sickness – all of which may lead to human errors and critical accidents.
To understand the actual impact these have, the project used simulations and virtual reality to study the effect of noise and ship motions on navigational performance and the effect a deck’s layout has on the safe execution of engineering tasks. What researchers learned was that each of these characteristics has some impact on human reliability. With this knowledge, the project was able to suggest a range of design changes, such as optimising a ship’s hull shape and modifying structural features, including watertight doors, to a deck.
The bigger picture
The FAROS findings are already being used to enhance the training of crew members, upgrade internal safety procedures, and improve best practices in ship design. Researchers continue to share this safety-critical information with ship operators and ship design firms through public workshops, conferences, journal and magazine publications, leaflets, and an online promotional film.
“What we now know is that the safe operation of a ship is not only impacted by management policies, but also by technical measures,” says Puisa. “Prudent design decisions can be a powerful means of improving the effectiveness of a ship’s safety management system – and this is where the results from the FAROS project are having the greatest impact.”