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Do not take seafarers’ fatigue lightly


It might be too late when it reaches the point of total disengagement

In Psychology Professor Andy Smith’s view, chronic fatigue leads to a chain of events called “the strain disengagement spiral”. While fatigue can be cushioned by compensated high-performance, benefits are only temporal.

Beyond sleep deprivation
Prof Smith from Cardiff University in the United Kingdom recently conducted a research on seafarers’ fatigue. His findings revealed 30 per cent of the respondents reported their involvements in fatigue-related incidents. Another 60 per cent felt fatigue compromised the ship’s safety. However, like road traffic accidents, the number of marine accidents attributed to fatigue by investigators or solicitors is relatively small.

Falling asleep onboard from fatigue is a known cause for vessel mishaps like running aground. Fatigue comprises a plethora of factors which jeopardizes concentration and commitment levels, for instance extreme workloads in harsh working conditions. Prolonged exposure to these stimuli leads to chronic fatigue and eventually becomes acute. Smith noted fatigue creeps in quietly and dilutes performance prior to the manifestation of physical symptoms. The complexity is its obscurity – making it hardly detectable by investigators and complicates labour disputes.

A vicious cycle
Smith’s study pointed out initial fatigue may be counteracted with compensatory efforts. This was proven through an experiment conducted on a research staff at the Applied Psychology Unit at Cambridge. The subject surprisingly demonstrated stellar performance by going the extra mile despite being sleep-deprived. Shortly after, he wound up reversing into other vehicles in the carpark; the real consequence of exhaustion. That confirmed prolonged fatigue can make an easy task difficult due to impaired judgement, and needing additional efforts.

Applying that in seafarers’ situations, excessive work demands can lead to prolonged fatigue which increases the subsequent need for effort with additional effects of stress and exhaustion. Such process may continue for several cycles, but the high effort strategy gets abandoned when the compensatory threshold is reached. Disengagement makes way for the adverse effects on performance to surface. For shipowners and seafarers, it is something better off prevented than fighting.


Crewing Online News Team
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