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Fighting Against the Deadly Dozen: Part One


The U.K. Maritime & Coastguard Agency (MCA) has drawn together the “deadly dozen” people related factors which lead to the most accidents in shipping. So, let’s break them down and learn how to avoid these 12 killer mistakes.


You can read more on the deadly dozen here, and it is well worth it but here we go with our unique take on the first six of the deadly dozen issues which keep rearing their very ugly head…



When the call of duty comes, are you fit for duty? The MCA is crystal clear on the need to ask yourself whether you are really fit for work? Don’t stop with yourself, what about your colleagues? Are they fit and ready to go on duty?

Energy drinks for seafarers

Energy drinks for seafarers

Perhaps the biggest problems when it comes to being fit or being impaired is whether people have been taking drugs or alcohol. These are both major killers, and they can impair abilities, judgment and decision making. Drugs come in many forms though – there have also been questions about the effects of energy drinks on decision making.

If you are faced with deciding whether to alter course, whether to slow down, whether to climb up a mast, or put your hand near dangerous machinery – do you really want to have caffeine, guarana and lashings of taurine in your system? Energy drinks do have an effect, they give you wings…but sometimes the safest decisions are made when people are grounded, not when vessels are.

Illness to can impair judgment and thinking, so think about whether you can go on watch if you feel sick, or are in pain. The same applies for injuries. You should always think about the effects of your physical or mental state on the task you are working on. So be honest and ask that question…am I fit to work?



Seafarer Fatigue

Seafarer Fatigue

Fatigue is a problem we seem to face constantly when it comes to matters of safety and performance. The issue is a seeming ever present concern when it comes to working at sea. So it is vital that seafarers consider whether they are “Just tired” or “dangerously fatigued”.

There can be no accepting fatigue, through sadly all too many people do. Whether it is because of the stigma, the macho effect of soldiering through tiredness. Whatever the reason, there are many, many seafarers who work when they should not. Who go on watch, or out on deck, or do whatever, when they are fatigued.

The MCA advice is for seafarers not to accept fatigue. They rightly state that fatigue is a killer. It leads to accidents and ill health – and there needs to be proper steps taken to safeguard against it. So seafarers need to learn about the causes, effects and how they can prevent fatigue at sea.

As part of a proper regime at sea, the MCA states that seafarers should be able to recognise fatigue and the warning signs. They should be able to report it, and of the ways that they can manage it effectively.



Distractions at SeaThere is a real problem with all manner of distractions at sea. They come in all forms, and seafarers must ask themselves whether they are multitasking or whether they are dangerously distracted.

It happens very easily, and distractions can sneak up on someone. One minute you can be working away, and then someone, something or even just thoughts can distract and take the mental process away from the job in hand.

Seafarers are expected to work long hours, and often for months at a time. It is clear then, that at some points during a trip they are likely to become distracted. This doesn’t have to be just about the pressures of work, or concerns onboard the ship. Sometimes personal issues as well as job distractions can cause the focus to wander.

This is dangerous, and it is vital that focus on the task in hand is maintained. If you feel distracted, or if you think you’d been performing tasks while on mental “autopilot”, rather than properly concentrating – the MCA advice is to take two-steps back, to use checklists to monitor progress, to understand your own emotional triggers.



Under pressurePressure can be good, it can provide a rush of energy and bring focus and get people geared up to excel. However, sometimes it can be negative, especially if the levels of pressure exceed our tolerances. Or if the pressure combines with other concerns to ramp up to unsustainable, unmanageable levels.

So, we need to ask whether we are just busy or dangerously overloaded? The MCA recognises that good pressure can improve performance, but only to a point. The Deadly Dozen guidance is that too much pressure leads to stress, which is always bad.

It is vital that seafarers do not let pressure build too much. That there is a means of reacting to rising levels and of making sensible decisions. What we must avoid at all costs is the possible temptation to allow pressure to make us take short cuts.

The MCA guidance is to ensure there are adequate resources in place, so that pressure does not build excessively. These resources can take different forms, and the most important will depend on the circumstances – but people, time, and the right tools are often the answers.



CapabilityOften people tend to overestimate their own competence levels. The reason so many young car drivers crash is that they tend to think they are amazing. They feel they are Lewis Hamilton, but usually end up more like Lady Emma Hamilton. As in dead…

So, it is vital that seafarers question the capability of themselves, and those they work with. Is your team really and truly capable? It is not always an easy question to ask, but it is vital and has to be done.

It is vital to check training, qualifications and experience and to regularly assess capability. Only by understanding who can do what, by thinking about the levels at which people can perform that a team can understand what its capabilities are.

When people try to over stretch and work beyond their capabilities, that is when problems arise. So having asked the questions, it is equally important to provide onboard training, mentoring and coaching to then ensure that any capability gaps are addressed.



Well, that is often the assumption, that people think their team is working to the best of its ability, that all parts are pulling in the same direction and working to the same ends.

TeamworkSadly that is often not the case, so when it comes to teamwork – seafarers need to think open and honestly about how well they and their shipmates really work together.

Does everyone work to a shared mental model? Do they understand the risks and threats of an operation in the same terms? Are the goals shared and does success in an operation mean the same thing to all the different people involved?

It is also important that where there is too much agreement, that we don’t fall into “group think”, where problems go unchallenged, because people in the team do not feel they can raise issue or ask questions. It is vital that teams work together, question things, understand things and actually work to the same plan of action.

What do you think? Do these first lot of Deadly Dozen apply to you, your job and perhaps on your ship? Let us know what you think, we’d love to hear from you. If you enjoyed these six, make sure you read the next part of this article…