Inside the Issues

Dangers of fatigue highlighted in ITF study

1998

Urgent reform of the international regulations on seafarers’ working hours has been recommended by the ITF following in-depth research into the dangers of fatigue.

A study of 2,500 seafarers of 60 different nationalities found a disturbing trend of excessive working hours, particularly among watchkeepers.

Medical studies have shown that those going without sleep for between 25 and 26 hours have a similar performance to those with alcohol levels twice the limit laid down for seafarers.

The ITF wants to see a speedy reassessment of the principles used to determine the issue of safe manning certificates to reduce pressure on watchkeeping officers. It also calls on flag and port states to enforce existing regulations on hours, which are commonly ignored and abused.

And it wants a confidential system for seafarers to be able to report shipowners who are deliberately not complying with the system.

The report “Seafarer fatigue: Wake up to the dangers” is a follow-up to concerns raised in the ITF/Mori survey (see previous page) and an earlier study by Numast, the British officers’ union.

The ITF study highlights cases where respondents were involved in serious accidents, collisions, and near misses when working while exhausted through lack of sleep. Officers regularly reported “dozing off” while in control of fast ferries or of cases where incorrect orders were given. Overfilled cargo tanks, spillages of oil and chemicals and loading errors were common.

One-third of those questioned said they had an average working day of more than 12 hours. Two-thirds had a working week of more than 60 hours, including 25 per cent who worked more than 80 hours a week. Just five per cent reported a decrease in working time over the past 10 years compared with 60 per cent saying hours had increased.

It is clear that hours on many ships exceed those laid down in the Standards of Training, Certification & Watchkeeping Convention (STCW), the main regulation covering  working hours at sea.

A further problem has been the gradual increase in the length of tours of duty to six months and more. This has led to a greater cumulative impact of disturbed sleep and long periods on duty.

“The threat to personal health and safety and the safety of ships, passengers and the marine environment should not be underestimated,” says the report.

“The industry should be aware of the potentially huge scale of costs arising from the impact of fatigue,” it adds.