The implications of fatigue at sea and related issues, such as stress and workload, have been the subject of a three-year study that culminated with the publication of the Project Martha Report in January 2017. The Project was conducted by an international partnership of academic institutions and shipping industry participants. The aim of the study was to learn more about fatigue and pro-active fatigue prevention and to engage crew on a subject that has direct relevance for them. The Project used a sample of volunteer seafarers in the naturalistic setting of work on-board their vessels. Four shipping companies assisted in the collection of data: two European-managed companies and two state-owned Chinese shipping companies.
The main findings from the studies undertaken included the following:
- Both sleepiness and fatigue are important issues for seafarers and managers: they both have safety and long-term physical and mental health implications;
- Long tours of duty (over six months) may lead to increased sleepiness, loss of sleep quality and reduced motivation. Any of these outcomes could result in near-misses and accidents on-board;
- Night watch keepers are most at risk from falling asleep on duty; and
- Captains feel stressed and fatigued at the end of their tours of duty and need recovery time.
The Report concluded that there were simple operational solutions that could ensure sleep was easier for those on-board through fatigue risk management. The introduction of Fatigue Risk Management Systems presented an integrated systems approach to managing the risk of fatigue. However, these Systems required a change in the culture of the shipping company and a gradual development in the company’s individual approach to the problem. The Report further concluded that, in the longer term, improved vessel design would make a significant impact in reducing the effects of sleepiness and fatigue. Ultimately, a healthier work environment reduces the crew members’ susceptibility to fatigue.
The Report recommends further research on various areas of concern, including the optimum tour of duty length, the recommended length of recovery time between voyages and the extent of deterioration in cognitive performance over time due to fatigue and stress.
The significance of the Project Martha findings cannot be underestimated. Crew fatigue can lead to accidents and injury, casualties, sickness and lower performance both individually and ultimately overall by the vessel. Crew fatigue also raises potential risks in terms of the vessel’s seaworthiness that owners should be aware of and make sure they address.