F.1.1 Introduction


Ergonomic, medical, psychological and behavioural science perspectives on seafaring align with each other, as all are person-centred. They are concerned with enhancing interfaces with task-based aspects of work, with threats from disease or distress and with interactions with other people respectively.  

This volume brings together a series of contributions, which consider key aspects of person-centred ergonomic, psychological and behavioural sciences approaches to some current concerns in maritime health. It also includes a section on health promotion, as this is heavily dependent on insights from the behavioural sciences.

The management of ships is a very old skill. There is an almost unique management structure.  Traditions relating to work at sea are very strong and they define the knowledge, responsibility and authority required. New systems and ways of working have to be introduced carefully and, in many cases, this is not done in a sympathetic way, leading to inefficiencies or sources of error.

The seafaring culture is complex involving maritime traditions, complex personal motivations, and multilingual, multi-cultural crews. National culture has a strong influence, especially in senior operational and engineering roles. Problem solving, conformance to procedures, perception of risk and response to emergencies are all influenced by cultural and psychological issues. More information on these topics is available in Ch. 2.5. However, both onshore support for ships, their design and on-board equipment rarely takes account of these issues. Therefore, risks are built into maritime operations. Application of ergonomic principles at the design stage can remedy these shortcomings as outlined in the checklist later in this chapter.

F.1.2 Implications for safety


The crucial influence of the human element on safety, security and environmental protection has been recognised by the IMO, including in its ‘vision, principles and goals’ for the human element, as set out in IMO Resolution A.947 (23). This acknowledges ‘the need for increased focus on human-related activities in the safe operation of ships, and the need to achieve and maintain high standards of safety, security and environmental protection for the purpose of significantly reducing maritime casualties.’ [1]

This person-centred approach provides the tools and the means to address the human element and mitigate human-system issues. However, there is an increasing tendency in the maritime industry, and in national legislation, to see the human element as only a matter of competence and leadership. This represents the least effective treatment of hazards. Designing out and protecting against are the preferred hazard treatments and more information on this is available in Ch 2.5. These require consideration of the human component of maritime systems when designing ships and ship systems for resilient performance.

Human-systems issues continually change as technology and operational practices change. Reactive regulations and rules that mitigate particular failures associated with reported incidents will not prevent the next incident. Human hazard identification and near-miss analysis are crucial to effective management of the human contribution to incidents. At present neither of these is routine in the maritime industry.


  1. IMO 2003, Resolution A.947(23) Human Element Vision, Principles and Goals for the Organisation, 2003. International Maritime Organisation, https://wwwcdn.imo.org/localresources/en/OurWork/HumanElement/Documents/A947(23).pdf