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Life buoy floating on ocean

How digital technology can improve safety at sea.

As part of the LR Safety Accelerator, LR interviewed nearly 600 marine operators to find out the main human safety challenges they are currently facing.

LR's Maurizio Pilu, VP Digital Innovation, and Steve Price, Lloyd's Register's Safety Accelerator Programme Manager, tell us about the survey, its findings and how we can use digital innovation to help solve some of the human safety challenges highlighted.

Tell us more about the purpose of the survey and what you were trying achieve?

MP: Various organizations are looking into safety in the marine industry, such as EMSA and the Lloyd's Register Foundation, in collaboration with Nesta, has also produced research on this topic. Our survey started with a different premise and objective: What are the biggest safety challenges where digital technology can provide a material difference? And what are the barriers to adopt these technologies in the industry? While we sought to identify challenges which the LR Safety Accelerator could focus on, we also wanted to understand how LR as whole could do even more to help our customers improve their safety performance, in particular through the use of cutting-edge digital technologies.

Can you run us through some of the key findings?

SP: The survey highlighted specific challenges operators are facing that could be grouped into four key areas– the work environment, culture, training and education and compliance. By its very nature, normal workplace safety issues in marine are exacerbated by the specific conditions in which people work – be it heights, confined or exposed spaces on a ship, for example.

MP: What I found interesting is that many respondents thought that better monitoring and feedback of conditions, such as oxygen levels, or dangerous situations could reduce the number of accidents. Many of these challenges became challenges for the first two rounds of the Safety Accelerator.

SP: Our survey also highlighted the flip-side of too much technology, which we know can be a problem everywhere in modern society. For instance, data shows that attention spans are decreasing and people are experiencing information overload and according to our findings it's no different in marine. A captain on a ship may be receiving emails from his head office and having to deal with compliance issues, as well as navigating the vessel. Some respondents also noted that the new generation of marine captains often rely on their screens rather than their instincts and eyes.

By its very nature, normal workplace safety issues in marine are exacerbated by the specific conditions in which people work

So, did human factors come up strongly?

SP: Yes, in many ways. The figure of 75% of accidents being caused by human error came up quite frequently. Fatigue came up explicitly - it's a problem in every safety-critical workplace but in a marine environment when you're on the bridge of a ship, it can lead to major safety issues. Mental health and wellbeing is also of increasing concern, including causes such as fatigue and workload stress as well as social isolation and stress due to separation from family and friends. Long periods at sea and increased crew turnover can accentuate these issues.

MP: Safety challenges related to human factors are multi-faceted and it's unlikely we can address them with a single technology, bearing in mind also the need to address privacy and workplace regulations. Yet some clear opportunities to make a difference were highlighted, which we were able to validate through our innovation ventures with some of our customers. They include fatigue monitoring, assessing general environmental conditions (e.g. temperature) that can affect performance and general crew conditions. On this theme, we recently launched the 'fitness for duty' challenge in partnership with one customer.

Safety challenges related to human factors are multi-faceted and it’s unlikely we can address them with a single technology

What did the survey find in terms of cultural challenges?

SP: Onboard environments are incredibly multicultural places, with many different languages and cultures, which can impact how a crew socially integrate and function together as a unit. Seafarers also point out that due to the hierarchical nature, there is often an inability to challenge seniors on important decisions during a crisis.

MP: We're exploring possible technologies to help address these challenges with our customers on a number of innovation projects. I think the way to look at them is not as individual technologies, which seldom helps, but to look at what the increased availability of data and process/workflow transparency - typical by-products of digitisation ­– can achieve. Digitised process tends to be more standardized, more widely accessible by crew members and more easily translated in a cross-cultural manner.

SP: As crew sizes have decreased, seafarers are required to do more, and do more diverse jobs. Having people who can do the job correctly remains the biggest competitive advantage in the industry. However, training is becoming more difficult as the seafarer’s role becomes more multi-faceted.

MP: Working at sea has little option other than to become more of a knowledge industry. There are a vast amount of technologies to support training, capture knowledge and keep skills up to date and many are being used in the marine and offshore industry, such as Virtual Reality (VR) training and mobile apps, which LR is currently trialling with some of our customers. Change demographics also pose many challenges as an older, very knowledgeable workforce retires – finding ways to capture their knowledge digitally to help new generations of seafarers is particularly important. But as noted by many in our survey, nothing will replace real experience on the job.

The final challenge highlighted was compliance. What are the issues here?

SP: These smaller crews are having to perform more tasks than ever before with the newly implemented regulations and requirements worldwide.

MP: With the industry still relying on paperwork, this will continue to be a problem. This is another area where digitisation will provide a number of dividends other than simply saving money. Emerging technologies such as blockchain could provide permanent registers of skills, competencies and certificates that could help industry handle a global, highly mobile workforce workforce and this is something we are currently exploring at LR. In collaboration with Blockchain Labs for Open Collaboration (BLOC) we have just launched a demonstrator project on this.

Read the second part of our interview here as Maurizio and Steve discuss some of the wider human safety challenges facing the marine industry and how digital technologies can help find the solutions.

Digitisation will provide a number of dividends other than simply saving money

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