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Human wellbeing – a critical element on the path to autonomy.

James Fanshawe discusses the importance of strong operational practices, design factors and effective planning in managing the wellbeing of remote personnel monitoring and controlling autonomous ships.

Authored by James Fanshawe CBE FNI, Chairman of the UK’s Maritime Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group.

The march towards autonomy, and the quest for a workable maritime assurance framework is gathering pace successfully. Finding class approved solutions is becoming clearer for those who are designing and operating these vessels, as well as for those who have regulatory and other responsibilities. Concurrently, there is evidence that the customer demand is building for those who see autonomous vessels as a viable steppingstone towards reaching zero emissions.

Whilst the debate continues about how these vessels will work, from a regulatory and legal standpoint, there is an encouraging balance being struck to depolarise some of the arguments and to find workable solutions. One constant is the role of the human within autonomous ship systems. They may not be onboard vessels, but these ships will not be able to operate without their engagement.

The human has frailties which are widely analysed, producing a stark array of statistics which establish, among other things, that people are the prime cause of most maritime incidents. To complicate the picture, we are now introducing the dimension that ships will be monitored and controlled by personnel based in offices ashore.

There are some core assumptions about Remote Control Centre (RCC) personnel: their heart must be in maritime; they should have had seafarer experience and need to maintain their currency; they will need to be trained to the appropriate standards; and their wellbeing will need to be properly addressed. The nature of remote vessel operation can only intensify the importance of these people-related factors.

What is wellbeing? It can be defined as a ‘positive outcome that is meaningful for people and for many sectors of society, because it tells us that people perceive that their lives are going well’. Good living and working conditions are fundamental to the state of being happy, healthy, and successful. This includes fostering good relationships; being physically active; having the hunger to learn new skills, and the desire to give to others, whilst paying attention to the present moment, known as mindfulness.

To highlight this, version five of the UK Maritime Autonomous Systems Regulatory Working Group Code of Practice has a new section entitled ‘Managing Remote Control Centre Workforce Wellbeing’ in chapter 11. The new version of the Code of Pratice is available to download at: https://www.maritimeuk.org/priorities/innovation/maritime-uk-autonomous-systems-regulatory-working-group/mass-uk-industry-conduct-principles-and-code-practice-2021-v5/

Managing workforce wellbeing must be a priority. Placing considered importance on human and system performance, is necessary to ensure the highest level of safety, as well as meeting an obligation towards the health of the workforce.

Human factors should be integral to both the planning and operation of any RCC, based on strong leadership and management. These should cover:

  • Being fully aware of Situational Awareness when dealing with risks.
  • Building a ‘Just Culture’ to promote alerting and raising issues, counteracting risks of distractions, complacency, and memory lapses.
  • Enabling strong and resilient communication structures and working language protocols.
  • Development of a strong culture based on safety behaviours and compliance to practices that underpin safe operations.
  • Ensuring continuity of practices between RCCs and local operations.
  • Fostering efficient teamwork between RCC personnel and external organisations.
  • Ensuring a capable and competent workforce are ready to perform in routine and emergency situations.
  • Planning operations, workforce quotient and resources to limit the build-up of real or perceived pressure that can degrade performance.
  • Minimising distractions and putting barriers in place to ensure operations in the RCC are not compromised by unnecessary interference.
  • Putting fatigue mitigation measures in place and developing a fatigue-conscious workforce.
  • Prioritising workforce fitness for duty and providing sufficient support in case fitness for duty is at risk.

Human factors should be incorporated into the design and layout of RCCs from the outset, and the risks of prolonged use of display screen equipment should be assessed and mitigated wherever possible. Where RCC operations require a shift pattern, particular attention shall be given to the mitigation of fatigue: avoiding long continuous work durations; balancing work during the ‘circadian low’ period; implementing effective handover periods at the beginning and end of shifts; and adequate recovery time between shifts.

In sum, the risks of getting it wrong with people must be paramount. Failure to achieve this will jeopardise safe operation of Maritime Autonomous Surface Ships (MASS) with the inherent impact on the wider maritime community. But this can be mitigated by considering strong operational practices, design factors and effective planning. Although this article is focussed on autonomy, it must be stressed that the key points are equally relevant in any work environment, afloat and ashore.

Horizons December

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