Since 2013 a Lloyd’s Register Foundation grant has been helping CHIRP Maritime to make working life safer for seafarers across the globe. CHIRP (Confidential Human Factors Incident Reporting Programme) works in partnership with universities and others to identify and tackle the factors that make this one of the world’s most dangerous industries. The most critical of these are human factors such as tiredness, stress, lack of training and the sheer loneliness of life at sea.
We recently supported CHIRP in publishing a guide for seafarers (in collaboration with University College London’s Arts and Sciences and Neurosciences departments) entitled ‘Making Critical Decisions at Sea’.
This advocates developing a more inclusive team environment onboard ship, getting away from the ‘cockpit culture’. This hierarchical management approach makes subordinates less likely to question their superiors, making it less likely that they will make the right decisions.
The guide explains: “When at sea, the environment can rapidly change, and we can find ourselves in unfamiliar and unpredictable situations. We often work alongside other seafarers we don’t know very well, who may have a different culture and may work differently from us. For all of these reasons, we must develop our skills in critical decision making. If we do this properly then we learn to evaluate decisions that we and others make to deal with situations effectively. Good decision-making is the foundation for the continued safety of the ship and everyone on board.”
Our grant supports CHIRP in its efforts to address the multiple safety hazards of the seafarer’s career. Many of these stem from the highly competitive nature of commercial shipping. Tight profit margins can mean training is reduced – and poorly trained crews with little experience are exposed to many unnecessary risks. Crews are often poorly paid and have little alternative but to work away from their homes and families for stints as long as nine months. Before CHIRP, they had no clear way of confronting or changing their circumstances without fear of retribution.
CHIRP offers seafarers a safe, confidential way of reporting safety hazards. It gathers reports from individual seafarers which can then be used to get things changed, without identifying the individual. In turn, the seafarers’ reports act as a bank of lessons learned that can be analysed and shared to make the industry safer.
CHIRP’s ever-growing knowledge bank on safety and risk at sea is widely communicated in an effort to change practice and raise awareness in the industry. One of its main findings is that human factors are the greatest risk to life and wellbeing at sea.
Through our support for CHIRP, Lloyd’s Register Foundation has been supporting seafarers through the unprecedented challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic. CHIRP has published a series of reports on the impact of the pandemic on seafarers. They estimate that 150,000 have been trapped at sea, unable to repatriate to their home countries, as several companies have suspended crew changes. CHIRP is campaigning to get seafarers recognised as essential workers, with access to the same travel rights.
According to the research, seafarers are required to work irregular hours, with working weeks often notching and sometimes exceeding 84hrs. This puts them at greater risk of physical harm from industrial fatigue. Seafarers also lack a clear separation of work and recreation and are isolated from their families for long periods of time, which can affect their emotional wellbeing.
Because they don’t have ‘essential worker’ status, seafarers are finding it difficult to find flights to their home countries – and face entry restrictions and quarantine on arrival. These issues also affect the thousands of seafarers on land who are willing but unable to relieve those on board. What’s more, many of these seafarers work on a contractual basis so when they’re not at sea they are not being paid, and are unable to support their families. Our ongoing support for CHIRP is helping them campaign to overcome these barriers, so the seafarers who are so essential to the movement of goods can see their families again.