NTSB: Distractions, fatigue among the main problems for shipping


NTSB: Distractions, fatigue among the main problems for shipping


NTSB: Distractions, fatigue among the main problems for shipping

The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced its 2019 – 2020 Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements, during an event held at the National Press Club, on February 4. The list includes 10 improvements, of which two regard shipping as well: eliminate distractions; and reduce fatigue-related accidents.

Casualties | 05/02/19

The 2019 – 2020 Most Wanted List advocates for 46 safety recommendations that can and should be implemented during these next two years, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt, mentions. IIt also incorporates broad, longstanding safety issues that still threaten the traveling public.

The ten transportation safety improvements are the following:

  1. Eliminate Distractions;
  2. End Alcohol and Other Drug Impairment;
  3. Ensure the Safe Shipment of Hazardous Materials;
  4. Fully Implement Positive Train Control;
  5. Implement a Comprehensive Strategy to Reduce Speeding-Related Crashes;
  6. Improve the Safety of Part 135 Aircraft Flight Operations;
  7. Increase Implementation of Collision Avoidance Systems in All New Highway Vehicles;
  8. Reduce Fatigue-Related Accidents;
  9. Require Medical Fitness – Screen for and Treat Obstructive Sleep Apnea;
  10. Strengthen Occupant Protection.

Of these, the elimination of distractions and the reduction of fatigue-related accidents, regard shipping as well.

Eliminate distractions

According to NTSB, distraction is an increasing and life-threatening problem in all modes of transportation. Vessel operators do not always have their eyes or minds on the waterway, something that can lead to tragic consequences. Moreover, increased use of portable electronic devices (PEDs) has made distractions more prevalent and is an increasing risk in vessel operations.

In shipping, communicating with crew and dispatchers, checking instruments and equipment, and completing scheduled tasks may be part of normal work duties, but engaging in tasks other than vessel operation affects performance.

Federal regulations should prohibit the nonoperational use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions, but no such regulation exists

To address the problem of fatigue, NTSB makes the following recommendations:

  • Operators: Keep your eyes and mind on vessel operation; do not use PEDs inappropriately, and minimize other distractions, such as nonessential conversations;
  • Owners/Safety managers: Set out policies and practices to tackle distractions in commercial operations. For decades, the aviation mode has recognized the need for a “sterile cockpit”, to restrict activities and conversations within the cockpit to the task at hand. The marine industry should recognize the benefits of this procedure;
  • Regulators: Ban the non-operational use of cell phones and other wireless electronic devices by on-duty crewmembers in safety-critical positions. Moreover, build technical understanding of auxiliary task distraction in regulated transportation.

Reduce fatigue-related accidents

Fatigue impacts a person’s ability to stay awake, alert, and attentive to the demands of safely controlling a vessel. Marine operators and other individuals carrying out safety-critical functions may not recognize the effects of fatigue until it is too late.

Fatigue is also often the result of insufficient sleep. But even when individuals have enough time to get rest, other issues could affect their ability to have a quality sleep.

So, what can be done to address this problem?

  • Operators: Create fatigue risk management programs and monitor their success to reduce risks for personnel performing safety-critical tasks;
  • States and territories in which state and local pilots operate: Require local pilot oversight organizations that have not already done so to implement fatigue mitigation and prevention programs. These will regularly inform mariners of the dangers of fatigue and effective strategies to prevent it;
  • Regulators: Collect and analyze data regarding fatigue’s impact on vessel operations and help vessel operators identify high-risk mariners. In addition, they must require mariners to report to the US Coast Guard, in time, any important changes in their medical status or medication use that take place between required medical evaluations. Finally, they must encourage vessel operators and mariners to comply with IMO’s Guidelines on Fatigue Mitigation and Management (MSC/Circ. 1014).


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