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Combating human error in DP operations

Published on 19 August 2021

IMCA Technical Adviser, Marine Richard Purser looks at human error in DP
station keeping incidents and events

Human error is like paint; it can cover a multitude of sins. Often when the root cause is attributed to human error, stakeholders continue as usual.

Replacing human error with human factor is a more reasonable explanation of incident causes. After all, it is rare the incident from beginning to end is due to one single thing. The trigger can be singular but the event is multiple. I like the saying, ‘We can all get into a situation, but it is the actions we take and the way we get ourselves out safely that defines the event and how it will be viewed from the outside’.

When people make errors it is usually unintentional. Professionals are trained to do things in a particular way. The human factor is the judgment that is made after the act/trigger and is often due to the lack of understanding of a situation, a distraction, competence and training issues, and a reliance on inadequate procedures.

IMCA continually promotes its DP Station Keeping Event Reporting Scheme which allows members and non-members alike the opportunity to report DP events (DP incidents, DP undesired events, DP observations). Once submitted, we anonymise the reports. The captured data, when analysed, shows certain trends with reports split into first and secondary causes along with the categories that make up these causes (see OSJ February 2021).

By August, IMCA had received 80 such reports for 2021. Human factors accounted for three main causes and 14 secondary causes which is approximately 21% of the causational factors.

This member-engagement with the DP reporting scheme can help IMCA identify areas where our guidance can help reduce events being repeated. All IMCA guidance is under continuous review by our committees as the industry evolves around us.

IMCA recognises the need to equip key DP personnel on vessels with the correct support tools with which they can carry out their day-to-day activities safely and diligently. To this end, IMCA partnered with The Nautical Institute in creating a DP continuous professional development (CPD) application.

The objective of the CPD learning app is to re-acquaint the ‘human’ with the support tools that are already available to them through IMCA’s guidance but may not have been reviewed for some time. In the first module, the applicant is guided through M 117 Training and Experience for Key DP Personnel and M 220 Operational Activity Planning.

M 220 discusses the activity specific operating guidelines (ASOG) and the importance of having up-to-date information with which to populate the ASOG and define the critical activity mode and task appropriate mode for that vessel’s particular mission. The ASOG is one of the strongest support tools a DP operator has to help them make informed ‘human’ decisions should events start to unfold.

It is incumbent on the vessel owner and charterer that the key DP personnel have these support tools and regularly review them to keep up to date with the latest industry guidance.

Module 2 of the DP CPD app brings further learning and engagement of the IMCA support tools that are currently within the industry.

Often it is easy to write off an incident to human error and then mitigate it by putting in complex barriers; however if the ‘humans’ conducting the work are engaged with the tools already available then complex barriers should not be required.

Food for thought… safety specialist, professor and author Sidney Dekker quotes “Do not celebrate closure on your ’human error’ problem too early. Don’t take the easy answer to be the correct ones.”

IMCA Contact

Richard Purser
Technical Adviser – Marine