New guidelines to reduce seafarer fatigue

An off-duty seafarer catching up on rest. Credit: MALUSHKO, IGOR

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) has released new guidelines on how to reduce crew fatigue to improve safety of seafarers in Australian waters.

Fatigue was the primary cause in more than 11% of collisions at sea, according to research cited by AMSA. However, it said the actual percentage is likely to be higher due to underreporting.

Australia’s biggest maritime disaster due to fatigue was the grounding of the bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 on Douglas Shoal off Gladstone, Queensland, in April 2010. An investigation found the chief officer had only slept 2.5 hours in the 38.5 hours prior to the grounding.

According to an AMSA commissioned research in 2018, more than 20% of 1,026 seafarers surveyed reported chronic fatigue.

The study by the University of Queensland and University of Western Australia also found 20% of seafarers reported working more than 69 hours per week. Crew also complained working hours were unpredictable.

One in five seafarers reported experiencing high levels of acute fatigue.

This was less likely in the presence of high levels of job autonomy, safety leadership, job security, and the absence of work constraint, the study found.

Long working hours are not only associated with near misses and injuries, but also mental health and sleep problems.

The report, which is available on AMSA’s website, also uncovered a lack of fatigue management.

“That’s why we took the next step of developing our own even more simplified and usable set of Fatigue Guidelines,” Dr. Michelle Grech, manager of vessel operations at AMSA, told SAS. “We wanted to challenge [the] industry to learn about the risks of fatigue and respond with better management practices.”

The guidelines call for a fatigue management system that continuously monitors and manages the risk of fatigue.

“[This] is the gold standard and it should be discussed with the seafarers, incorporated into a ship’s safety management system, and implemented effectively”, said Dr. Grech.

Just meeting the hours of work requirements and rest, under the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification, and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, is not enough to manage the risk of fatigue. The AMSA guidelines help determine the other factors that can contribute to fatigue.

“Ships need to be adequately manned and resourced, accommodation quarters need to be designed in a way that promotes quality sleep, and shift work scheduling needs to take into account circadian rhythms in people over a 24-hour period,” according to the guidelines.

“There’s much more that shipping companies can do to improve the way they manage seafarer fatigue and the whole shipping industry stands to benefit from those improvements.”

Grech, who has 15 years of experience in applied research on fatigue at sea, having worked as a shipbuilding engineer, surveyor, and researcher, said fatigue was an area she was passionate about.

Grech earlier led AMSA’s role in revising the IMO Guidelines on fatigue in collaboration with other member states.  These were adopted at the 100th session of the Maritime Safety Committee in 2018.