Global trade has transformed life as we know it today and shipping has been the backbone. More than 50,000 ships sail our oceans every day, transporting goods from all corners of the earth. Shipping is vital for the world to function, from the food that we eat, the goods that we use every day and the energy that we need. Yet, shipping has one of the poorest safety records of any industry in the world.

A UK study showed that the shipping industry has a safety performance 20 times worse than for the average onshore worker and five times worse than the construction industry. During the last 10 years, an average of 113 ships around the world have been lost each year, and many thousands of people killed and seriously injured. In addition, research has shown that almost 6% of deaths at sea are attributable to suicide and this increases dramatically if suspicious cases when seafarers go missing are considered. This is at least six times higher than the suicide rate for the UK population.

Seafarer wellbeing…a subject that has huge importance to us all. I want to focus on why wellbeing is so important and the impact that it has on safety, and to start asking the question and understand “why do people do what they do?”

Along with many of my fellow shipping leaders, I have the vision of a zero-incident industry and we are making good progress. Businesses have recognised that improving their safety performance is not just fundamental to their licence to operate, but also good business.

Human error is the cause of more than 75% of accidents in shipping. Tiredness, inadequate procedures and improper supervision can increase the risk of human mistakes by up to 50%. So, we urgently need to look at the seafarer wellbeing behind those statistics. We need to ask ourselves “why do people do what they do?” and how we can positively influence them.

During the past year, working together with my Shell Shipping & Maritime team and the Shell Health group, we have carried out extensive research into the link between seafarer wellbeing and human error. We reviewed nearly 700 academic papers and more than 60 industry publications, conducted over 30 hours of interviews and analysed 340 pages of feedback from industry experts. Our research demonstrated clear links between health-related aspects and adverse incidents at sea.

The results showed five key areas of influence on wellbeing:

  1. Fatigue…this might be the result of different shift patterns, long hours, or insufficient rest.
  2. The environment that the seafarers are working in…the physical aspects, and separation from home, and healthy living.
  3. The nature of the role the seafarer is conducting…the individual’s responsibility and workload, the personal fulfilment and job security, job satisfaction, reward and recognition.
  4. Then there is the leadership on the ship and in the office…taking personal accountability for wellbeing, setting the right culture and tone, and having the right skills to recognise issues and knowing how to act.
  5. And finally, the networks that surround the individual…family, friends, and work colleagues on the ship…and effective communication, as well as the cohesion and social interaction of the team.

After identifying these five strategic areas and the key contributing factors, we were able to build a model of how these areas influence safety. For example, if we take fatigue which strongly influences wellbeing, this leads to a human response, being stressed, tired, disengaged, leading to a behavioural outcome, the decisions and the resulting errors that an individual makes.

The more that people have had insufficient rest, are stressed, under time pressure, or poorly trained or have personal issues, bad news from home, the more likely that there are human errors. This raises the risk of catastrophic accidents occurring.

Two years ago, we (Shell) launched HiLo, focussing on high impact, low frequency safety events which may result in serious injury or death. It is a mathematical riskanalysis model that uses near-miss data to highlight a pattern of events that, if left unchecked, could lead to a major incident. In essence, HiLo assesses the risk of serious accidents before they happen. We have seen some very impressive results from those companies using HiLo, including reducing the risk of lifeboat accidents by 72% and the risk of engine room fires by 65%. Now, we are combining HiLo with our research into seafarer wellbeing, to develop the first ever human error model, launched this year during this year’s London International Shipping Week.

This new model will allow shipping companies to better understand the wellbeing of the crew on their ships and highlight the human errors that cause more than 75% of accidents at sea. If we can understand the wellbeing of the crew, we can make proactive interventions to address their needs and make improvements. HiLo provides important data for us to make decisions - but training also plays a critical role. This is making life onboard safer. It is also good for the business too, as there are fewer incidents and a more motivated crew who want to do a great job for the company.

As an industry, we can do much more about caring for our own and other people’s wellbeing. We can become a leading industry in the challenging area of mental health and become flagbearers. Working together, we can improve the shipping industry the world over - for every ship, every company, every crew member. We have a vision of a zero incident industry where everyone gets home safely to their families and children.