Fatal Distractions 2

When the TH!NK Life Saving Rules were introduced in November 2016, some of the most important early feedback concerned the use of cell phones and other mobile devices.

Many of our Captains considered that this was becoming a problem, so we started a “Don’t Get Distracted” campaign to alert people to the dangers, and altered our Company policies to give clear guidance when mobile devices may and may not be used. However, the problem has not gone away, and it is worth reconsidering the consequences of becoming distracted.

A great deal of research has been conducted into the effect of mobile phone use on those driving a car and, whilst not all the findings are conclusive, it is clear that anything that distracts a driver from their primary task greatly increases the chance of an accident:

  • In Spain, an estimated 37% of road accidents in 2008 were related to driver distraction
  • The American National Safety Council estimates that mobile phone use while driving leads to 1.6 million accidents each year in the USA – in 2016 this lead to 3,450 fatalities, or 9.2% of all crash deaths in that year, and 391,000 injuries
  • A study by the Australian NRMA insurance company showed that people who text while driving spend almost 70 per cent of the trip glancing at their phone. They found that drivers were glancing at their phones while texting for 1.4 seconds on average, which means that when travelling at 60km per hour drivers were taking their eyes off the road for 22 metres at a time or almost five car lengths.
  • Accident statistics show that on average 11 teenagers die each day in the USA as a result of using a mobile device whilst driving – it was also noted that the number of young drivers aged between 16 and 20 years old involved in fatal accidents increased by 3.6% between 2015 and 2016
  • Insurance companies in Columbia reported that 21% of cases where pedestrians were hit by cars were caused by distracted drivers
  • In 2010, more than 1,500 people in the USA required emergency medical treatment after being injured while using a mobile phone while walking.

In the United States, it is now estimated that as many as 25% of road accidents are caused by people using mobile phones, and in Britain it has been suggested that mobile phone use will soon become the biggest cause of fatal road accidents. What is very worrying is that despite wide- spread evidence of the dangers, a range of information and educational materials, and increasingly restrictive laws, it appears that people are becoming more likely to use their mobile devices when driving or working. A study in the United Kingdom found that the percentage of drivers admitting to using their phones while on the road actually increased from 8% in 2014 to 31% in 2016, an increase of 23% in just two years.
The dangers of using mobile phones on the roads and in the workplace are very clear, and there has been a dramatic rise in workplace injuries associated with mobile phone use. In the maritime industry, both the US Coast Guard and the United Kingdom Maritime and Coastguard Agency have issued guidance notices on the subject of mobile devices and navigational safety. Recent navigational incidents directly attributed to the use of mobile devices include:

  • The bulk carrier ARIS T collided with a tank barge, a tug and shore side structures on the Mississippi river as a result of “…the distraction of the captain of the LORRETTA G CENAC from safety-critical navigational functions as a result of his mobile phone use.”
  • The UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) report into the grounding of the chemical tanker ATTILIO IEVOLI of the South Coast of England states: “The mobile telephone was in use on the bridge for the majority of the time between the pilot disembarking and the vessel grounding. It is known that the master made some, if not all, of the calls during this period. With the remainder of the bridge team unclear of their relative responsibilities for navigation, and the master distracted on the telephone, no-one appears to have been concentrating on the safety of the vessel.”
  • An investigation by the UK MAIB into a collision between the cargo vessel DAROJA and the oil bunker barge ERIN WOOD concluded: “The chief officer failed to maintain a proper lookout because he allowed himself to become distracted, primarily by cargo paperwork but also by a phone call and, potentially, the use of his tablet computer.”

It must be stressed that the danger is not only to navigation – a moment’s inattention when handling ropes or wires, when operating machinery, or simply when moving around a ship at sea, can quickly result in injury.

Accident investigators, both ashore and afloat, are increasingly asking if use of a mobile device may have contributed to the event, and insurance companies may refuse to cover certain incidents if it is discovered that they were caused by inappropriate use of such devices.

The evidence is conclusive: using a mobile phone or other electronic device such as a tablet distracts the user from concentrating on their job. Three main types of distraction have been identified:

  1. Cognitive distraction. This is when a worker is think- ing about something other than the job they are doing, such as what the other person is saying in a mobile phone conversation. Studies have shown that when a person is distracted in this way their visual field narrows both vertically and horizontally, meaning that instead of looking around for hazards the person spends more time looking straight ahead. This means crew members who are cognitively distracted will spend less time looking out for hazards and be less aware of their surroundings
  2. Biomedical distraction. This occurs when a seafarer is doing something physical which is not related to their task, for example reaching for or holding a mobile telephone.
  3. Auditory distraction. This is caused when a person concentrates on listening to the voice on the phone and blocks out other sounds around them.

It is clearly potentially very dangerous to use electronic devices whilst working and this practice is forbidden on all Uniteam Marine vessels.

Mobile devices are wonderful tools for finding information, viewing films or playing games and, of course, keeping in touch with friends and family. But just because we can use them almost anywhere, doesn’t mean we should use them. Please, take a minute to think: “Is now the right time to use my mobile device, could I put myself or others in danger?” Don’t get hurt by a fatal distraction.

Peter Chilman, QSE Manager