Keeping faith in accident investigators

It might come as something of a relief to marine accident investigators to know that a majority of seafarers say they are willing to co-operate with them. In their line of work, any level of co-operation is to be welcomed, given that, as a former senior investigator recently noted, few are on their side, as everyone involved has a vested interest and some “have a particular axe to grind”.
Their relief may, however, be tempered by awareness of the slimness of the majority of the willing over the unwilling revealed in a recent survey. Those who said they would be reluctant to “co-operate fully and openly with casualty inquiries and accident investigations” totalled 46.44%. While investigators now can use a range of technical sources including Voyage Data Recorders, post-incident interviews can shed valuable light on the circumstances of accidents, albeit the reliability of witnesses can never be taken for granted. Witnesses are normally told by the investigators that they are only seeking to establish causes from which lessons might be usefully learned and not to apportion blame. If, however, the answers in the survey by Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), the union-funded centre for promoting seafarers’ legal protection, are to be believed, such assurances could be received with some scepticism.
Those among the 3,480 who said they would be reluctant to co-operate with an investigation cited as their motivation fears they would be implicated or co-operation would jeopardise their employment. Another common belief was that being involved in an investigation would be too much trouble. One seafarer said, “Anything you say can be used as evidence against you”, while another commented, “They consider us guilty, so why should we co-operate with them?”
This does not mean, of course, that, were the situation to arise, they would do what they told a survey. The same caveat, however, applies to the 53.56% who said they would co-operate. Their reasons for helping investigators ranged from the altruistic (“Telling the truth is key to preventing disasters”) to the more mutually supportive (“We should help each other for own good”). The SRI’s Criminal Survey, focusing on criminalisation of seafarers, paints a picture of a workforce in which a large minority is suspicious of authority and adopts an “us-against-them” attitude. They appear, in effect, to be saying, “Nobody understands us, nobody cares about us, so why should we help?”
In other industries, no doubt, there are similar attitudes, but at least accident investigations tend to be domestic affairs conducted in the language, albeit at times bureaucratic, of those involved. Seafarers, on the other hand, are more likely to find themselves dealing with investigators from an unfamiliar country and culture and using a foreign language and laws. Accident investigators, it would seem, are viewed as simply another facet of authority which many seafarers now, rightly or wrongly, mistrust. The SRI survey’s commentary supports their suspicions by claiming assurances that evidence supplied by witnesses will not be used in any related criminal prosecutions are not watertight. Other surveys have suggested many seafarers are equally distrustful of management ashore, particularly those whose actions tend to speak louder than their words. Dissemination of safety information – in posters and videos, for example – tends in such a sceptical climate to be viewed by crews as something designed to protect management rather than themselves and goes largely ignored.
This suspicion and mistrust might go some way to explaining why safety lessons appear not to have been learned, ensuring that the same mistakes keep recurring, too often with fatal consequences.
The continuing high incidence of deaths and injuries in enclosed spaces would seem to be a prime example of lessons not learned. This has been a well-known and well-publicised safety problem for some years and one that prompted a statistical survey by the Marine Accident Investigators International Forum (MAIIF). More than three years ago MAIIF presented the results of its survey to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).They revealed that over the previous decade there had been 102 enclosed-space incidents involving 93 fatalities and 96 injuries. A further 12 accidents, resulting in 10 deaths and seven injuries, occurred in the period between the end of the survey in May 2009 and the presentation in October that year.
These figures under-estimated the actual number of incidents and the death and injuries toll, as the MAIIF data was based on information supplied by just 18 flag-states.
Any idea that increased awareness of the risks of enclosed spaces would lead to a fall in the number of incidents now appears to have been optimistic. The UK P&I club reported in February this year the number of fatalities was, in fact, rising and cited a recent case of a junior officer who had been fatally overcome by toxic gases while trying to take a cargo sample. Last month the London P&I club revealed it had seen a rise in the number of “negative findings” recorded by its inspectors when checking how crews manage the risks of entering enclosed spaces. “Despite the wealth of information available,” the UK Club noted, “many deaths have been caused by seafarers being unaware of or ignoring the correct procedures.” The London Club struck a similar note: “Despite a global acceptance of industry standard procedures, incidents continue to occur year on year.” Deaths and injuries due to lack of awareness of what is assumed to be a widely-known risk no doubt prompt feelings of dismay and frustration, but they also perhaps question the assumption that safety campaigns in shipping, with its workforce spread around the world and on the high seas, are effective. The fresh warnings are, at least, expected to add further impetus for regular enclosed-space drills to be made mandatory, with a decision due at the next meeting of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in June. Meanwhile, winning back the trust of those unwilling to co-operate with investigations presents the industry with a formidable challenge. It can only continue to press its case for fairer treatment of seafarers in the hope that persistence pays.
Source: BIMCO

Keeping faith in accident investigators

It might come as something of a relief to marine accident investigators to know that a majority of seafarers say they are willing to co-operate with them. In their line of work, any level of co-operation is to be welcomed, given that, as a former senior investigator recently noted, few are on their side, as everyone involved has a vested interest and some “have a particular axe to grind”.
Their relief may, however, be tempered by awareness of the slimness of the majority of the willing over the unwilling revealed in a recent survey. Those who said they would be reluctant to “co-operate fully and openly with casualty inquiries and accident investigations” totalled 46.44%. While investigators now can use a range of technical sources including Voyage Data Recorders, post-incident interviews can shed valuable light on the circumstances of accidents, albeit the reliability of witnesses can never be taken for granted. Witnesses are normally told by the investigators that they are only seeking to establish causes from which lessons might be usefully learned and not to apportion blame. If, however, the answers in the survey by Seafarers’ Rights International (SRI), the union-funded centre for promoting seafarers’ legal protection, are to be believed, such assurances could be received with some scepticism.
Those among the 3,480 who said they would be reluctant to co-operate with an investigation cited as their motivation fears they would be implicated or co-operation would jeopardise their employment. Another common belief was that being involved in an investigation would be too much trouble. One seafarer said, “Anything you say can be used as evidence against you”, while another commented, “They consider us guilty, so why should we co-operate with them?”
This does not mean, of course, that, were the situation to arise, they would do what they told a survey. The same caveat, however, applies to the 53.56% who said they would co-operate. Their reasons for helping investigators ranged from the altruistic (“Telling the truth is key to preventing disasters”) to the more mutually supportive (“We should help each other for own good”). The SRI’s Criminal Survey, focusing on criminalisation of seafarers, paints a picture of a workforce in which a large minority is suspicious of authority and adopts an “us-against-them” attitude. They appear, in effect, to be saying, “Nobody understands us, nobody cares about us, so why should we help?”
In other industries, no doubt, there are similar attitudes, but at least accident investigations tend to be domestic affairs conducted in the language, albeit at times bureaucratic, of those involved. Seafarers, on the other hand, are more likely to find themselves dealing with investigators from an unfamiliar country and culture and using a foreign language and laws. Accident investigators, it would seem, are viewed as simply another facet of authority which many seafarers now, rightly or wrongly, mistrust. The SRI survey’s commentary supports their suspicions by claiming assurances that evidence supplied by witnesses will not be used in any related criminal prosecutions are not watertight. Other surveys have suggested many seafarers are equally distrustful of management ashore, particularly those whose actions tend to speak louder than their words. Dissemination of safety information – in posters and videos, for example – tends in such a sceptical climate to be viewed by crews as something designed to protect management rather than themselves and goes largely ignored.
This suspicion and mistrust might go some way to explaining why safety lessons appear not to have been learned, ensuring that the same mistakes keep recurring, too often with fatal consequences.
The continuing high incidence of deaths and injuries in enclosed spaces would seem to be a prime example of lessons not learned. This has been a well-known and well-publicised safety problem for some years and one that prompted a statistical survey by the Marine Accident Investigators International Forum (MAIIF). More than three years ago MAIIF presented the results of its survey to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).They revealed that over the previous decade there had been 102 enclosed-space incidents involving 93 fatalities and 96 injuries. A further 12 accidents, resulting in 10 deaths and seven injuries, occurred in the period between the end of the survey in May 2009 and the presentation in October that year.
These figures under-estimated the actual number of incidents and the death and injuries toll, as the MAIIF data was based on information supplied by just 18 flag-states.
Any idea that increased awareness of the risks of enclosed spaces would lead to a fall in the number of incidents now appears to have been optimistic. The UK P&I club reported in February this year the number of fatalities was, in fact, rising and cited a recent case of a junior officer who had been fatally overcome by toxic gases while trying to take a cargo sample. Last month the London P&I club revealed it had seen a rise in the number of “negative findings” recorded by its inspectors when checking how crews manage the risks of entering enclosed spaces. “Despite the wealth of information available,” the UK Club noted, “many deaths have been caused by seafarers being unaware of or ignoring the correct procedures.” The London Club struck a similar note: “Despite a global acceptance of industry standard procedures, incidents continue to occur year on year.” Deaths and injuries due to lack of awareness of what is assumed to be a widely-known risk no doubt prompt feelings of dismay and frustration, but they also perhaps question the assumption that safety campaigns in shipping, with its workforce spread around the world and on the high seas, are effective. The fresh warnings are, at least, expected to add further impetus for regular enclosed-space drills to be made mandatory, with a decision due at the next meeting of the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee in June. Meanwhile, winning back the trust of those unwilling to co-operate with investigations presents the industry with a formidable challenge. It can only continue to press its case for fairer treatment of seafarers in the hope that persistence pays.
Source: BIMCO