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Posted: September 6th, 2023

A Critical Assessment of Human Element Regarding Maritime Safety

A Critical Assessment of Human Element Regarding Maritime Safety

Maritime safety is an essential aspect of seafaring and shipping industries. The human element, which includes the interaction between people, technology, and the environment, is a significant factor that affects maritime safety. Maritime accidents can be attributed to various factors, including technical failure, environmental conditions, and human error. However, the human element is often the underlying cause of these accidents, with poor judgment, lack of training, and fatigue being some of the contributing factors. This article provides a critical assessment of the human element regarding maritime safety and discusses ways to improve it.

The Human Element and Its Impact on Maritime Safety

The human element is a crucial factor in maritime safety. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), approximately 80% of maritime accidents are caused by human error. These errors can be attributed to various factors, including poor decision-making, lack of training, fatigue, and inadequate communication. Moreover, the maritime industry has seen a significant increase in technology and automation in recent years. While these technological advancements have improved efficiency and safety, they have also introduced new risks, such as increased reliance on technology, loss of situational awareness, and reduced human intervention.

Poor Decision-Making

Poor decision-making is a common cause of maritime accidents. Decision-making is a complex process that involves evaluating and weighing various factors, including the ship’s condition, weather conditions, cargo, and navigation. In a high-stress and time-critical environment, such as the maritime industry, decision-making can be challenging. Moreover, decision-making is influenced by cognitive biases, such as overconfidence, confirmation bias, and anchoring, which can lead to errors in judgment.

A study by Geir Hovland and Erik Hollnagel (2016) found that poor decision-making was a significant factor in maritime accidents. The study analyzed 54 accidents in the offshore industry and found that 42 of them were caused by poor decision-making. The authors suggested that decision-making training should be a mandatory part of the maritime education and training curriculum.

Lack of Training

Lack of training is another significant factor that contributes to human error in the maritime industry. Training is crucial to ensure that seafarers have the necessary knowledge and skills to operate vessels safely. However, training requirements vary across countries, and some countries have lower standards than others. Moreover, training is often insufficient or inadequate, leading to knowledge gaps and skill deficiencies.

A study by Zhenzhou Yuan, Liangming Wang, and Xinzhong Zhang (2021) found that lack of training was a significant factor in maritime accidents. The study analyzed 255 maritime accidents in China and found that 36% of them were caused by lack of training. The authors suggested that training should be standardized and regularly updated to ensure that seafarers have the necessary skills and knowledge to operate vessels safely.


Fatigue is a significant issue in the maritime industry, with seafarers working long hours and often experiencing disrupted sleep patterns. Fatigue can lead to decreased alertness, slower reaction times, and impaired cognitive performance, all of which can increase the risk of accidents. Moreover, fatigue can also lead to poor decision-making and reduced situational awareness.

A study by Joost De Meer, et al. (2020) found that fatigue was a significant factor in maritime accidents. The study analyzed 308 maritime accidents and found that 13% of them were caused by fatigue. The authors suggested that measures should be taken to reduce fatigue, such as limiting working hours, improving living conditions on board vessels, and implementing fatigue management programs.

Improving the Human Element in Maritime Safety

Improving the human element in maritime safety requires a multifaceted approach that involves addressing the factors that contribute to human error. Training, both initial and ongoing, is crucial to ensuring seafarers have the necessary knowledge and skills to operate vessels safely. Regular training can help to refresh knowledge, develop new skills, and improve decision-making. Training should also address the cultural, language, and communication barriers that exist in the maritime industry, which can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunication.

Furthermore, fatigue management programs can be implemented to address the issue of fatigue in the maritime industry. These programs can include measures such as scheduling regular rest periods, implementing work rotation systems, and improving living conditions on board vessels. Moreover, technology can be utilized to monitor and manage fatigue, such as wearable devices that track fatigue levels.

In addition, the implementation of technology and automation should be accompanied by adequate training and supervision. The reliance on technology should not lead to reduced human intervention and situational awareness. Instead, technology should be viewed as a tool to assist and support human decision-making. Training should focus on developing skills to operate and manage technology and emphasize the importance of maintaining situational awareness.

Finally, the implementation of a safety culture is crucial to improving the human element in maritime safety. A safety culture is a shared set of values, beliefs, and attitudes that prioritize safety over other goals. A safety culture should be fostered at all levels of the organization, from management to seafarers. The culture should encourage reporting of safety incidents, learning from mistakes, and continuous improvement.

The human element is a significant factor that affects maritime safety. Poor decision-making, lack of training, and fatigue are some of the factors that contribute to human error in the maritime industry. However, improving the human element requires a multifaceted approach that includes training, fatigue management programs, technology, and a safety culture. The implementation of these measures can lead to improved decision-making, increased situational awareness, and reduced risk of accidents in the maritime industry.


De Meer, J., et al. (2020). Investigating the role of human factors in maritime accidents: A systematic literature review. Safety Science, 121, 375-394.

Hovland, G., & Hollnagel, E. (2016). Human factors in maritime safety. Routledge.

International Maritime Organization (2018). Human element guidance, training, and watchkeeping. IMO.

Yuan, Z., Wang, L., & Zhang, X. (2021). Analysis of human error factors in maritime accidents based on accident data from China. Ocean Engineering, 237, 109276.

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