Sjöfarten som ett socialt system :om handelssjöfart, risk och säkerhet

by Mårtensson, Magnus, PhD

Abstract (Summary)
In spite of intensive international work on safety regulations the world has repeatedly witnessed major shipping accidents. The work that has been and is being carried out, both in practical and research terms, to increase safety at sea has mainly been focused on technical improvements and an effort to minimize different types of human errors. This, however, does not appear to lead to a decrease in the number of accidents and incidents. Very few studies of the safety problems for shipping exist that have featured more structural and organizational factors related to safety. A specific aim of this dissertation is therefore, by utilising an organizational perspective, to contribute to better understanding of the problems tied to safety and accidents at sea. Data were collected in 49 interviews on board ships and ashore as well as through observations on board 7 freighters in service. A number of inquiries into accidents and founderings were also studied, where human errors were very often found to be the major cause of accidents. One should, however, look at these findings with some scepticism when considering that individuals act in a social context which controls and limits their actions. The dissertation contains a description and analysis of a number of land- based actors, who influence or have the possibility of influencing safety at sea. The results and analysis show that merchant shipping can be considered in terms of a social system. The aim of this social system, where the different actors interact, is that a common set of values are to be created. A common cultural set of values for safety at sea does, however, not appear to exist. The pattern maintenance function, as represented mainly by IMO, EU and to some extent national maritime authorities, is not capable of implanting a sufficiently good safety culture in subordinate parts of the system. This becomes particularly evident when studying the integrative or goal attainment level with such actors as national maritime authorities, ship owners and classification societies. Competing values in the form of differing national conceptions of safety and financial considerations controlling the thinking about safety are exposed here. Accordingly, this also leads to competing aims and an insufficient level of target achievement in terms of safety. The control function is in many cases delegated to actors, such as classification societies, which far from always should have this role. These problems or system faults have then repercussions in the lowest hierarchical subsystem, adaptation. The shipowner and the vessel and its crew are in focus and it is the shipowner who has to weigh up what is needed to preserve a balance between the system and its surroundings. Conflicts between values and aims are evident here and the reality is that even those shipowners that have a high ambition level in terms of safety will to some extent have to lower their standards. It appears to be very difficult to improve safety at sea without thorough changes of the present structural conditions. Actors such as IMO, EU and to some extent national maritime authorities must thus take forcible measures to create the "right" values and regulate the actions of other actors in terms of safety. This can be carried out by introducing palpable and heavy financial sanctions for the actors that do not follow the rules and/or palpable and heavy financial incentives for those actors who do follow the rules concerning safety for shipping. A further conclusion is that a continued down-sizing of the national authorities in the traditional shipping countries should be stopped and the capacity of the authorities restored to a more reasonable level. A major expansion should take place in the so-called new shipping countries so that also here there can be an independent and powerful national authority that can convert international agreements to standardizing regulations which can be followed up through a controlling system. Turning our attention to the vessel and its crew it can be said that the environment is very special in comparison to most other workplaces. The conditions on board can be almost likened to a "total institution" where the crew is separated from their families and other social activities for a long period of time. The hierarchy on board has a negative influence on the communication due to its vertical nature without real feedback, which can lead to misunderstandings. Authoritarian or power relationships provide each crew member with a particular place in the on board hierarchy where it can be expected that a superior's words and actions are not to be questioned. By mainly socializing with people from one's own profession there is thus a risk that a "we and they" relationship is developed that can further worsen the conditions for communication. A relaxation of the strictly departmentalized working methods and the introduction of alternative types of management can lead to a better resource usage of the crew as well as increased co-operation and improved communication. The results also indicate that fatigue is a common phenomenon that can be found in all categories of staff on board. The working pace has been raised and the possibilities for rest and recovery have been reduced. Throughout the study there are results concerning changes in the work contents and the social relationships on board. This contributes to a threat to one's identity that is followed by uncertainty, worry and stress. It can thus be said, without drawing too speculative a conclusion, that the changes on board and the increasingly pressing work situation contribute to lower safety levels. There appears to be evidence to support the view that the changes that have taken place on board can in many ways be seen as a result of the efforts of the last 20 - 30 years to achieve greater efficiency and productivity. Financial motives and the previously mentioned conflicts between values and aims in shipping seen as a system has, partly due to technicalization and widespread staff reductions, contributed to an increased level of fatigue, worry and stress in modern merchant shipping.
Bibliographical Information:


School:Luleå tekniska universitet

School Location:Sweden

Source Type:Doctoral Dissertation



Date of Publication:01/01/2006

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