Photo credit: Salmon Arm Observer

A recent marine guidance note from the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) outlines twelve of the most common people-related factors in maritime accidents. While most accidents result from a combination of several different factors, ranging from purely technical failures to environmental, systemic, procedural, competence and behavioural factors, the human element is consistent through almost all accidents.

Highlighting the problem

The MCA believes that the majority of these accidents, incidents and errors could potentially be avoided if people’s behaviour was different–not just on board ship, but at all levels and positions throughout the maritime system. In particular, there are twelve common conditions that can often act as precursors to human error–the ‘deadly dozen’, initially identified by Gordon Dupont in an article available on The guidance note focuses on these twelve issues:

  • Situational awareness
  • Alerting
  • Communication
  • Complacency
  • Culture
  • Local practices
  • Teamwork
  • Capability
  • Pressure
  • Distractions
  • Fatigue
  • Fitness for duty

The Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP) has analysed each of its near miss reports from 2003 to 2015, identifying the lead human element factor in each of the reports. Just three of this ‘deadly dozen’–situational awareness, issues with alerting and communication–account for more than half of the near misses studied.

Finding an answer

The guidance note attempts to provide a straightforward explanation of each of these factors, including a definition of each and areas where they are particularly likely to be a problem. While most seafarers will be well aware of the risks of each of these points, finding a solution to what sometimes seems like human nature can be a challenge. In addition to defining the issue, each section includes dos and don’ts for immediate use in a situation where there is a risk of one of the factors coming into play. In line with the concept that these factors can have an impact–and should be dealt with–at all levels of the industry, it also includes practical suggestions for companies, Masters and seafarers, to identify and tackle the issues. There is also a ‘be aware’ section highlighting the most frequent risks. Key points include telling the difference between tiredness and dangerous fatigue and identifying problems with crew capability and competence.

The language is clear and straightforward, and each section is concise, covering about a page for each factor. Safety and the human element can be a complex field, but the guidance note provides a useful and practical guide to some of the biggest issues. It can be downloaded free from

Republished with permission from The CHIRP Charitable Trust