Shipping is a 24/7 industry, and seafarers work long hours to keep their ships running on schedule. There is growing concern about the role of fatigue in maritime accidents — with sleepiness cited as a factor in some major disasters, such as the Exxon Valdez and the Shen Neng 1. A new EU sponsored research project, Project Horizon, is a major multi-partner European research study that brings together 11 academic institutions and shipping industry organizations with the aim of delivering empirical data to better understanding how fatigue effects watchkeepers.
The â‚¬3.78m European Commission-funded project is making extensive use of bridge, engine and liquid cargo handling simulators in Sweden and the UK to examine the decision-making and cognitive performance of officers during a range of real-time, realistic scenarios. Due to be completed on 30 November 2011, the 30-month research program seeks to improve safety at sea by developing a fatigue management toolkit for the industry, as well as recommendations for improving work patterns at sea.
Alarm about the effect of fatigue at sea has been fueled by a number of high-profile accidents. Project Horizon aims to build upon a growing body of evidence of seafarer fatigue problems gained from accident investigations and academic studies. A study by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch indicated that fatigue was involved in around one-third of accidents over a 10-year period. In 2003, Swedish researchers found that 73% of officers taking part in a closed voting session admitted to having fallen asleep one or more times whilst on watch.
A 2004 report by UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch showed that one-third of the incidents it investigated between 1994 and 2003 involved a fatigued watchkeeper alone on the bridge at night, whilst a US Coast Guard study showed fatigue to have contributed to some 16% of critical vessel casualties and 33% of personal injuries. A six-year research program carried out by Cardiff University produced some disturbing findings, with one in four seafarers saying they had fallen asleep while on watch. Similar research in Sweden has also reinforced the way in which work patterns at sea — and the six-on/six-off rotation in particular — can result in dangerous levels of sleepiness. being built up by seafarers.
Project Horizon involves some of Europe’s leading fatigue and stress experts, who are working in a six-stage project to assess the impact of fatigue on the decision-making performance of watchkeepers and to determine the best ways of minimizing risks to ships and seafarers. The project began with a research, design and development study, drawing on experience from other sectors. A range of fatigue measurement tools and procedures were examined and selections made.
Experimental scenarios have been designed to enable the observation of certificated watchkeepers, undertaking watchkeeping routines, under test conditions in bridge, engineroom and liquid cargo handling simulators. The project is replicating seagoing conditions, with sufficient experiments and candidates to ensure the statistical validity of the results. Researchers are using various means of measuring fatigue and the performance degradation it causes, and relating them to the operating circumstances of the candidates.