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Maritime occupational accidents and what causes them

A new report commissioned by Lloyd’s Register Foundation reveals that current reporting systems for maritime occupational accidents prevent visibility of underlying causation.

Link to report: Safety Challenges at Sea: Data and Evidence | University of Strathclyde 

Funding from Lloyd’s Register Foundation has supported researchers from the University of Strathclyde and the UK Health and Safety Executive to assess the literature and data related to maritime occupational accidents. The work has reviewed evidence on the most common types of accidents, the immediate and underlying causes of those accidents, trends in the accident data, and the taxonomies used in the reporting system.

Lloyd's Register Foundation’s Evidence and Insight Centre commissioned the research, led by researchers from Strathclyde’s Department of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Marine Engineering, in order that it and others can focus their interventions for maximum improvements in safety at sea. The research focused on merchant ships over 500 gross tonnage trading internationally and on relevant literature from the past 20 years.   

Key findings: 

Limitations to the current reporting system:

Although reliable insight into the immediate causes of accidents is readily available in the literature and databases reviewed, underlying causation is not, which limits the ability to learn from accidents. Additionally, 

  • National administrations’ accident investigation reports, which provide the richest, publicly available data source for occupational accidents, are focused on life-threatening injuries, fatalities or significant shipping accidents. 
  • The reporting of non-life-threatening accidents, incidents and near-misses varies significantly between national administrations. This information is provided on a voluntary basis into IMO-GISIS and EMCIP – the official accident reporting platforms for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and for the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA). The quality of this data does not allow for further analysis. 
  • Information held in the databases of national administrations are not widely available to the public. EMSA’s non-life-threatening accident, incident and near-miss data is available to the public for the preceding 12 months.  
  • Voluntary reporting platforms, which hold the voluntary reports of accidents, incidents and near misses, collectively provide a good source of data but lack the consistency and detail required for comprehensive data analysis. 

The report also confirms: 

  • Incidences of occupational injuries and fatalities show decreasing trends over the years but are still much higher than for land-based industries.  
  • Exploratory analyses using occupational accident databases revealed slips, trips and falls on the same level as the top immediate causal factor for injuries, while the fall overboard of a person is the top immediate causal factor for fatalities.  
  • Dislocations, sprains and strains, bone fractures, wounds and superficial injuries make up over 76% of the occupational injury types.  
  • The back, including spine and vertebra in the back, upper extremities, head, lower extremities and whole body and multiple sites make up the top five injured body parts. 
  • Ship decks, accommodation and engine room are the top three locations where the highest number of occupational accidents occur.  
  • Dry cargo ships, particularly bulk carriers, have the highest fatality and serious injury rates, while passenger ships appear to have the highest less serious injury rates. 

Report recommendations: 
Although maritime occupational safety has improved over time, work-related death, serious injury and long-term disability remain a significant problem in the maritime sector. More comprehensive, connected and systematic data collection is needed, involving a wide range of stakeholders, in order to improve the accuracy of data and establish underlying causation. Significant improvements in safety through learning from accidents, incidents and near-misses - is only made possible when underlying causation is accessible. As the report suggests, improvements in reporting taxonomies, including human, organisational and environment, design and operational factors, is potentially one part of the solution. 

Next steps: 
Lloyd’s Register Foundation is exploring how it can make a distinctive difference in this space. If you have ideas on how to make occupational accident reporting better suited to preventing future accidents contact us via our LinkedIn Ideas Space or email info@lrfoundation.org.uk 

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