^ Fatigue is a Huge Killer in the Maritime Industry – Image Courtesy of Xavier gallego morel at shutterstock.com
Focus on the Human Element
Researched and developed by the United States Coast Guard (USCG) over a span of a quarter century and successfully tested by the USCG and the US Army is the Crew Endurance Management System (CEMS), a comprehensive instrument for dealing with sailor’s fatigue.
But, just how serious is fatigue in the maritime world? For one, the USCG blames human errors for 75-96% of maritime casualties. And the same USCG also identifies fatigue as the paramount agent of human error.
Furthermore, the U.K. Marine Accidents Investigation Branch (MAIB) and the International Maritime Human Element Bulletin hold fatigue liable for most shipping accidents.
This is precisely why the International Maritime Organization (IMO) views seafarer behavior as the prime determinant of safety of life and environment at sea. Just about as serious as it gets.
Hitherto, the role of fatigue in causing maritime disasters was under researched. In fact, the entire industrial world did not recognize the contribution of human errors in industrial mishaps before the 1990s. The focus was on identifying and fixing technical glitches.
Things are however changing fast. This is because despite an immense progress in technologies, the maritime casualty rates are not falling to the expected minimal levels.
Economical pressures and the compulsion to stay abreast with rapidly evolving technologies compel the maritime industry to minimize crew levels. The trend is inevitable.
However, this comes fraught with the collateral peril – that of amplified fatigue as the workload on each sailor shoots through the roof and possibly hits unmanageable levels.
Technology will continue to advance and mitigate a part of this risk. But any further hike in maritime safety of substantial proportions will come only from better safety cultures that focus on humans, not gadgets.
And this is where the boundless utility of CEMS comes into play. For not only do maritime disasters end up taking human life and inflicting grave financial losses, they also bring about grave environmental catastrophes.
Fundamentals of CEMS
Working aboard ships is a physically and mentally challenging job. Crews often spend months on end at sea, living and working almost non-stop in sub-optimal conditions where bad weather can play spoilsport without a moment’s notice. If ever anyone needed a break, it is the seamen.
The sum total of all these strenuous circumstances is a monumental hike in stress levels. CEMS expands awareness on all those factors that intensify fatigue and thereby erode endurance.
In the words of the USCG, CEMS is a system of proven practices for managing endurance risk factors that affect operational safety and crewmember efficiency in the maritime industry.
CEMS aims to minimize onboard safety risks while bettering mariner health and well being by providing a framework of practices, processes, resources, and guidance that enables crewmembers and companies identify and supervise crew endurance risk factors.
First introduced in the maritime industry in 1999, CEMS employs a multi-disciplinary approach borrowing generously from neuroscience, human physiology, systems science, and social science.
A voluntary program, CEMS gets employers to train their crews on best practices. Each subscriber company has a CEMS coach. And they train the vessel captain for implementing the system.
CEMS addresses the following issues that affect endurance:
- Awareness and Education
- Lifestyle: Diet and Exercise
- Vessel Environment: noise, vibration, air and light quality, and vessel movement
- Company Policies
- Watch Schedules
Please note, no system can stamp out fatigue completely. CEMS tries to minimize it. The USCG Research and Development Center has tested it and found it to be effective and so have the US Army Special Forces.
And the designers had it tested on a wide variety of vessels including CG cutters, deep draft vessels, CG aviation, ferryboats, CG shore based units, and towing vessels have also found CEMS useful.
Endurance can be vessel endurance or crew endurance. The former is the duration the vessel performs its designated role without maintenance or replenishment. Crew endurance is the length of time for which the crew can provide the expected output, safely and efficiently.
CEMS identifies the following primary risk factors that promote fatigue and cut down crew endurance:
Environmental factors are the conditions in which crews operate. These include noise, vibrations, light intensity, weather and weather changes, sea state, and vessel motion.
Sea State measures the degree of turbulence of the sea surface on a scale of 0 to 9 in terms of wave height. Tides and currents influence sea state. Weather conditions include wind speed, temperature, humidity, and the changes in these parameters.
Psychological factors relate to the mind of the seafarer. Stress levels, emotional status, separation from family and friends, biological clock, sleep quality, and motion comfort / discomfort.
Operational factors reflect the impact of company and vessel policies on the crew. These include heavy workloads, sudden changes in work schedules, downtime, napping, vessel maneuvering, and changes in meal and shower times.
Physiological factors concern the effect of improper as well as inadequate sleep, food, and exercise on the body of the seafarer. The effect of course is fatigue and low concentration.
A related concept is the Red Zone, that duration of a 24-hour biological cycle when the energy level of the human body is at its lowest. For a normal person who works during the day and sleeps at night, the red zone coincides with the middle of the night.
Our biological clock commands the nervous system and hormones to regulate the body’s energy production schedule. Normally, energy levels rise after you wake up and peak during mid-morning. They fall in the afternoon, reach another peak in the early evening, and drop again as night approaches. As mentioned, they bottom in the middle of the night.
Your work schedule, the time you normally sleep and wake up, and the quantity and amount of light you get exposed to – natural or bright artificial light – determines the timing and length of the Red Zone.
If for example you move from a day shift to a night shift, the red zone will change. And you will do well to adjust your biological clock accordingly. Otherwise, your productivity will tank.
Implement the following for 5-6 days in order to shift the Red Zone when working at night:
- Work in artificial light with at least 1,000 lux intensity
- Keep the artificial lights ON in the work area between sunset and 2 am
- Sleep in a quiet and dark ambience
Critical to the success of CEMS is awareness on these factors. The less aware you are, the more fatigued you will be.
And if your employer is ignorant of these, he will inadvertently design company policies and watch schedules that end up mounting your stress and fatigue levels.
Elements of CEMS
In order to achieve its goal of seafarer well being and health, CEMS targets the following areas:
- Extreme Heat
- Extreme Cold
- Noise and Vibration
- Personal Stressors
Sleep: sleep sustains brain functions such as situational awareness, memory, and decision making. A normal, healthy person needs eight hours of uninterrupted sleep each night. Anything less, in quality or in quantity, and your brain and body does not rejuvenate fully.
This seriously undermines your cognitive abilities and you cannot deliver your best. Substandard performance on any other job is bad enough. In professions such as the maritime industry where innocuous-looking errors can snowball into catastrophes, this spells doom.
If you do not get the optimal quality and quantity of sleep you end up:
- feeling drowsy, overwhelmed, and unmotivated
- lowering your speed of work, ability to execute complex tasks, motor skills, and coordination
- diminishing your memory and the capacity to make decisions through logical and / or critical thinking
- unintentionally falling asleep – this is one consequence that can precipitate the calamity immediately
Causes for sleep deprivation include:
- Circadian Rhythms: the hormone melatonin makes us feel sleepy. Daylight suppresses it while the absence of light boosts its secretion
Night shift personnel cannot sleep properly during their rest times in the day because their bodies do not make enough melatonin at this time. And they cannot work efficiently during night because their bodies make more melatonin
This is circadian inversion. You can address it by adjusting the Red Zone
- Sleep Fragmentation: is getting the total eight hours of sleep in multiple, short installments. Unscheduled allocation of tasks often causes breaks in sleep and prevents the complete revitalization of body and brain
- Disturbances: such as noise, vibration, and weather preclude quality sleep time
- Extended Schedules: research has proved the serious deterioration of cognitive abilities, alertness, planning and prioritizing capabilities, and quick responses when working over eight hours a day or over 40 hours a week. A disaster is only waiting to happen
- Erratic Work Duration: is a regular feature in shipping. These days, managements minimize crews. And things aboard do not go according to predetermined scripts. Dealing with unexpected situations requires you to often work beyond set routines
Here are a few CEMS suggestions for better sleep management:
- Sleep at least six hours a day
- In case you do not get the optimal eight hours sleep, take brief naps of 90 minutes each
After the nap, leave 15 minutes before resuming work to avoid drowsiness. Do not nap if you cannot fall asleep during your usual sleep period
- Avoid heavy meals and caffeine containing medicines and beverages for four hours before bedtime. These will keep you awake and escalate fatigue
- For the same reason, leave a gap of one hour between exercise and sleep
- Sleep in a dark ambience on a comfortable surface
- To fall asleep more easily, sleep at the same location each day wearing the same type of clothes. If you cannot fall asleep after 30 minutes in bed, get up for a while and try sleeping again
Diet: Our digestive system converts food into adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy-giving molecules. Their magnitude depends on the quality and quantity of the food you consume, the water you drink, and the sleep you get.
For best results:
- Eat a balanced diet of lean proteins, whole grain carbohydrates, whole cum fresh fruits and vegetables, and low-to-moderate amounts of mono-and-poly-saturated fats
- Consume the heaviest meal a short while after waking from the day’s longest sleep. Follow this up with light meals through the remainder of the day
- As mentioned, do not consume heavy meals and caffeine containing beverages and medicines for at least four hours before sleep
- Drink at least eight glasses of water a day – each glass of eight ounces. Consume water at short intervals even if you do not feel thirsty
Increase water intake if your work causes greater sweating and less frequent cum darker urination
- To maintain electrode balance, drink fruit juices instead of electrolytic drinks
Exercise: improves blood circulation. Blood carries oxygen to various parts of our body. Exercise therefore boosts your endurance – productivity, alertness, focus, cognitive thinking, and decision making.
Slow decision making has caused numerous maritime accidents. A USCG study has discovered that 60 minutes of aerobic exercise a day enables better information processing and decision making.
Get exercise for at least three times a week. Ensure that you include different types of exercises in your fitness regimen. And, do not exercise for at least one hour before bedtime.
Extreme Cold: induces frostbite and hypothermia. Fingers do not function below 590F. To deal with cold:
- Always keep your head warm. The same applies to your hands, feet, and face. Wear three layers of clothing plus boots and insulated socks
- Keep the clothing clean for soiled clothes do not insulate properly
- Take hot shower between a change of clothes
- Drink a lot of water as dehydration is common even at low temperatures
- Also, drink fruit juices to maintain electrolyte balance
- If possible, slow down the pace of work and take breaks
Extreme Heat: working in hot conditions without getting used to them and without appropriate preparation can provoke heat sickness. It starts with dehydration and, if untreated, leads to exhaustion. Typical symptoms include fatigue, weakness, confusion, and exhaustion.
To escape the wrath of heat sickness:
- Stop work if the temperature reaches or exceeds 1040F
- Get used to the work environment for at least 60-90 minutes before beginning work
- Follow the aforementioned guidelines on water and fruit juice intake (mentioned in the diet section)
- Avoid alcohol and medicines (such as acetaminophen and aspirin) that interfere with body temperature regulation
- Wear light-colored, loose-fitting clothing
- If possible, work in adequately ventilated places
Noise and Vibration: are the inevitable and inherent consequences of many onboard operations. Combating noise and vibration requires you to:
- Use ear caps and other ear protection
- Sleep in noise-proof areas
- Get optimal quality and quantity of sleep as fatigue escalates motion sickness
- Inform the captain if you are on medication for motion sickness – this could mean the difference between life and death in an medical emergency
- Be considerate – avoid working near areas where other crew members are sleeping. You can always work later
Personal Stressors: long spells of separation from family and friends can take its toll on your psychological well being and aggravate stress and fatigue that, sadly, are already in abundant supply. To handle personal stress:
- Identify the causes of personal stress, especially in interpersonal relationships, and deal with them
- Pursue hobbies such as reading when off duty
- Exercise regularly, it dampens stress
- Socialize with the captain and crew members. Participate in group troubleshooting. The feeling of being part of a supportive team makes you feel that you are not alone and thereby boosts morale
- Engage actively in any available stress management programs
- Practice good time management techniques, for the pressure of deadlines is a great stressor particularly if you are used to leaving everything for the eleventh hour
If you want to execute CEMS thoroughly:
- Establish Vertical Alignment: i.e. ensure that all employees right from the chief executive officer to the entry level job holder understand the CEMS objectives thoroughly
- Manage Misinformation: through regular and effective two-way communication with all the involved personnel
- Ensure Appropriate Follow Up
Maritime fatigue is a colossal, multifaceted area. Handling it is therefore a nuanced and systematic task. Sophisticated and multipronged, CEMS is more than equal to the task. Here, a stitch in time saves infinitely more than nine.
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