A recently published white paper from DNV challenges the consensus that technology alone can solve shipping’s future needs – and argues that the human element must never be overlooked – or seen as the enemy of safety.
Classification society DNV GL has released a white paper, which, it says, identifies a “looming safety gap” between shipping’s approach to safety risks and its ambitions for greater digitalisation and the adoption of alternative fuels.
"We must embrace the idea that whenever we are developing new technologies, systems and processes, the end user must be central to that development process"
Fenna van de Merwe, principal consultant, DNV Maritime
Closing the safety gap in an era of transformation argues that while the industry is undergoing a rapid transition to a decarbonised and digitally smart future, the technologies and fuels it is relying on to meet future challenges are creating a new risk landscape – one that demands a fresh approach to safety.
To deal with these challenges, the white paper highlights the industry’s interaction between technology, organisations, and human beings.
“For the industry to transform safely, we must embrace the idea that whenever we are developing new technologies, systems and processes, the end user must be central to that development process,” says the paper’s lead author, Fenna van de Merwe, principal consultant at DNV Maritime.
The paper focuses on the twin trends currently shaping the industry – digitalisation and decarbonisation – and the different safety-related risks associated with them, pointing out that digitalisation increases system complexity and introduces new ways of operation, while decarbonisation involves a significant increase in the use of alternative fuels and operations.
The paper goes on to propose that maritime organisations can help facilitate safe and efficient performance by balancing technology and personnel, using human-centric design, and ensuring the wellbeing of crew and staff.
The paper has drawn a warm response from Steve Harding, Committee member of the IMarEST Human Element SIG (Special Interest Group).
“Technology is seen as a means to an end to reduce human involvement on ships – with an assumption that this can only benefit safety at sea – so DNV’s white paper comes as a pleasant surprise,” he says.
Human error paradigm
“To my knowledge this is the first occasion the ‘human error paradigm’ has been seriously challenged, embracing many concepts worked through by our workshop a generation ago. However, as DNV acknowledges, there are complexities. While recognising the paradox that digitalisation creates more distance between a person discharging the function and the operation, beyond the need for dynamic rules and standards that evolve with experience, the white paper lacks solutions.
“Although simulations are proposed to help test and verify the safety levels of a system, these appear to be primarily associated with the evaluation of condition and operational parameters without expressly stating how the human factor will be integrated into the system.
“In other words, how will human reliability be assessed to determine the response to, or interaction with, technology across the range of potential scenarios, with the wherewithal for the human to intervene if need be, both in terms of maintaining their residual skills and the system permitting that intervention?
“However, overall, DNV’s new white paper is an excellent response to a rapidly evolving situation. It is courageous, too, challenging, as it does, the decades of orthodoxy that views technology to be the shining knight in armour to repel the primary enemy of safety – the seafarer.”
Read the full report:
Read the white paper in full here.
Dennis O’Neill is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Marine Professional.