Articles & Publications


Human Error in the Maritime Industry

How to Understand, Detect and Cope by Bengt Schager.

Corporate Culture and Human Factor Problems

(May 16th 1999)

Stress and Human Functioning

(February 2009)

Increased safety for high-speed marine craft by focusing on operators and organization

(October 27th 1998)

When Technology Leads Us Astray: A Broadened View of Human Error.

The Journal of Navigation (2008) 61,63-70. © The Royal Institute of Navigation.

Understanding the human factor

(March 2nd 1998)

Mind Matters

Lessons from the Aviation Industry

On 24 March 2015, a Germanwings’ Airbus was deliberately crashed into the French Alps, killing 150 passengers and crew.

The accident report has now been issued, and the major focus is on the personality of the first officer – the officer who deliberately flew the airplane into a mountain.

This officer had a history of multiple psychological problems which he hid from his fellow officers and his employer. Today we know he was depressed, had multiple obsessions, and was suicidal. On the day of that fatal flight, he committed his planned suicide, thereby also killing everybody else onboard.

Lesson for the Maritime Industry

One concern in the maritime industry is whether a maritime officer with psychological problems deliberately could cause an accident.

It should be borne in mind that there are some fundamental differences between aviation and shipping. Aviation pilots seldom fly with each other and the majority of flights are only of 3-4 hours’ duration, so pilots hardly have the time to get to know each other very well.

In the shipping industry, however, officers work and live together, often for several months at a time, and get to know each other better. So, psychological difficulties are not easily kept hidden from fellow mariners, and signs or clues may be observable to others.

A Proactive Approach

In line with the recommendations for the aviation industry we also recommend psychological assessment of maritime officers before hiring and promotion, as well as reassessment at fixed intervals – and whenever the management feels there is a reason.

Examples of such reasons could be:

• Knowledge of any traumatic change in an officer’s private or professional life that could affect the officer’s stability and suitability.

• A suspicion that an officer is not functioning as well as before.

• Inadequate behaviour that seems odd or alarming.

• Sudden and unexpected changes in an officer’s mood and temperament, such as temper tantrums, depression, lack of zest for life, exaggerated passivity, feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, etc.

• Sudden changes in behaviour that look unfamiliar to those who know the officer well.

• Withdrawal from usual and normal social contacts.

• Deliberate avoidance of eye contact when interacting with others.

Our recommendation is to make officers onboard aware of such changes in fellow officers’ behaviour and what their implications might be, to react to them and make management aware of their concerns.

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About Anger - Active and Passive

Perhaps you haven’t thought about it, but expressions of anger can be active or passive.
Active anger is the most obvious. Someone is angry and shows it, meaning that the person looks angry and/or behavs in an angry manner. You can tell from his or her facial expression, body language, behaviour and the pitch of the voice. This kind of anger is open and straightforward. The angry person readily talks about the anger and the reason for it.

Passive anger – anger denied

Passiv anger, however, is indirect and disguised. The manifestations in behaviour, facial expressions or body language are not easy to read. Expressions can even be inconsistent with those normally connected with anger. Anger can be displayed with a smile. Anger is denied, often with a laughter, ridiculing the person who has commented on it. Therefore it si not meaningful to bring up and communicate about. The passively angry person may counter with: “What do you mean? I’m not angry. You must be hyper-sensitive!” and similar comments. passive anger is hidden behind irony, acid comments and sarcasm, often with double meanings that are not possible for the receiver to really understand and comment upon.

Frozen relationship
Other features of passive anger are directed towards the relationsship. A subject can be ignored, forzen out, disregarded, neglected and treated as non-existent. Eye contact is deliberately avoided and the angry person turns away, talking into the air – if he or she is talking at all. The subject is punished by the angry party, who causes a hostile break in the relationship by using it as a vehicle.

From a group perspective, passive anger is a disastrous and a catastrophic blow to communication, cooperation and any efforts related to team-bulding.

How to resolve conflicts
Active anger, however, can be handled. It is open, acknowledged and not disguised. Active anger can be discussed and commented upon, and conflicts can be resolved in the only way we know – by communicating.

What is OK?
Active anger, in a cultivated manner is OK; others can read and understand it. It is a powerful signal to those around and it can be dicussed and commented upon.
Passive anger is never OK and is destructive in any relationship. the subjects suffer; it is devoid of any means for resolving a conflict.
Children are especially vulnerable, and a pattern of passive anger from a care provider has been proven to be psychologically pathogenic and may lead to future psychriatric problems. 

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The Use of Tests in Psychological Assessment

The aviation industry has a long tradition of using psychological tests in the selection of pilots. The focus of such testing has been on well-defined skills and capacities needed for safely manoeuvring an airplane. The assessment aid has been cognitive screening and aptitude tests designed to measure the identified skills.

The reasons for such a limited scope are that the cockpit situation is similar in most aircrafts and that the longest flight is only around eighteen hours; the majority of flights less than four hours. These circumstances are thus quite different from the maritime industry.


Cognitive Screening and Performance Tests

A good result on such tests normally indicates a rational and well-organised personality. This is not always sufficient, however, since the human personality is far more complex than the sum of a number of measured capacities. As we learned when the co-pilot on a Germanwings flight crashed into the French alps in March 2015, a severely disturbed and suicidal personality can lie concealed behind a pattern of excellent skills.

Cognitive screening and performance tests normally include measurements of: IQ, reasoning, the ability to concentrate, endurance, memory, logic, spatial and visual capacity, visual discrimination, sensitivity to stress, reaction time, problem-solving, capacity for simultaneous tasking as well as tests of motoric coordination.

In one sense, cognitive screening reduces the individual to numbers. The full personality, a dynamic and evolving whole, may remain elusive.

Personality Tests

Another type of testing – personality tests – is designed to shed in-depth light on the individual as a whole.

Personality tests focus on character traits such as: Self-image, biases, personal experience, drives, leadership skills, emotional stability, maturity,
self-confidence, mindset, attitudes, habitual moods, habits, sensitivity, inhibitions, fears, fantasies, strivings, personal ethics, relationships, sociability, openness and potential.

The information personality tests deliver to a psychologist, provides invaluable clues for conducting an in-depth interview. Individuals in safety-critical positions should therefore preferably be assessed using all categories of tests,i.e. an adequate selection of cognitive and performance tests combined withpersonality tests, followed by a psychologist interview.

This is the way we do it at Marine Profile.

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About the Role Structure Onboard Ships vs. the Individual Identity, Part Two

The previous Mind Matters dealt with a study of the organisation onboard a ship.The sociologists found such organisations to be a strict hierarchical structure with fixed and empty roles. The seamen were replaceable and not counted as individuals.

Resulting symptoms of such a structure may be some of the following features:

Officers’ obsession with being promoted.

There are limited possibilities for an officer to stand out. Either the role is fulfilled or not. When expectations are met, you are OK. “Not recommended for promotion” is therefore seen as a critical statement. “Recommended for promotion” is positive feedback and a confirmation. In shore-based positions, the expectation is to do more and to develop the position.

Categorical statements on others’ working skills.

Officers are regularly deemed by colleagues to be either “competent” or “totally incompetent”. Such rigid statements are signs connected with role expectations and whether an officer has fulfilled the role or not. Such statements, without nuances, are usually not heard in shore-based businesses.

Exaggerated emphasis on sea-time.

There are few possibilities for an officer to claim superior qualifications in a certain position. Therefore, to claim extended competence, an officer
is limited to referring to sea-time or experience. In shore-based businesses there are a variety of means to identify superior qualifications.

Occasional yelling and shouting by superiors.

Outbursts of anger or primitive leadership are sometimes displayed by captains and chief engineers. Officers who are not functioning directly
under the eyes of their superiors can allow themselves to let off steam. Viewing the subjects as replaceable makes such leadership manners easier. Yelling and shouting are not accepted in most shore-based businesses. It is considered bad leadership by superiors.

The four headings above are behavioural consequences of the strict, hierarchical role structure. It still exists but is changing, with cruise and ferry companies taking the lead, putting increasing emphasis also on officers’ individual capacities.

Besides professional skills and experience the focus today also involves personality features important for counteracting human error. Such features include the ability to work in a team, leadership skills, engagement, communicative skills as well as judgement, capacity for situation awareness and coping with stress.

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About the Authoritarian Personality

It might be interesting to know that true authoritarian personalities normally are vulnerable, weak and rather soft individuals. Deep down they often feel neither significant nor particularly secure – quite contrary to how they are perceived. The authoritarian person is, on the surface, usually a conventional, rather formal person who keeps his or her distance, who acts pompously and who likes to get an advantage over others.
Authoritarian individuals normally feel uneasy when close to someone else – that’s why they keep their distance. Normally they are strict, assertive and demanding with a slight undercurrent of easily aroused irritation. Relationships with authoritarian individuals therefore have a tendency to be impersonal, respectful, defensive and quite formal.

To be emotional is to be weak
The authoritarian person is aware of his/her own weakness, but can not tolerate it. That is why they have a passion for strength, conservative values and for harsh self-discipline. They are emotional but perceive soft emotions as threatening. To be emotional is according to their inner logic equal to being weak, and weakness is something they detest, fear and avoid. But this is not their only contradiction.

Based on limited self-esteem
They also love and admire other authorities. They have the habit of becoming humble, pliable, compliant and even outright ingratiating towards individuals they look upon as bigger and mightier. Authoritarian individuals are extremely good at being submissive also. Towards other people – those who are dependent on them – they can on the contrary be arrogant, demanding, sarcastic, condemning and quite insensitive. The authoritarian individual is never anybody’s equal. He/she feels related to the strong and idealises people with power, especially those who have power over themselves. Authoritarian personalities are prejudiced and divide others according to established principles: The strong are good – others are not. They shun the weak.
Beneath the surface they are continuously curious about how they are perceived by others. Their self-esteem is not generated from within. Their limited self-esteem is nourished by respect and admiration derived from others. Their source of self-esteem stems from how they are respected as well as from close relationships with other authorities. In other words, they are extremely dependent on others for gaining personal confidence.
Many authoritarians like to dwell on man’s relative littleness in our vast universe. This is perfectly in line with their personal make-up; they are fascinated by greatness as opposed to insignificance, and thoughts like this mirror their own inner dynamics.
So – give them what they need and they will practically be eating out of your hand.

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About the Role Structure Onboard Ships vs. Individual Identity, Part One

Around 50 years ago, two Norwegian sociologists(1) studied the life and organization onboard merchant ships. They observed that a ship of that time could change up to one third of its officers and crew while at berth or even at anchor, and sail again – fully operational – a few hours later.

The sociologists noted that a ship was organized into a strict hierarchy with fixed positions and roles and that there was no need for any introduction of relieving officers and crew.

New and experienced crew members could smoothly fill in for those disembarking without even meeting them. The newcomers already knew their jobs, as well as when and where to work. They were even able to find their cabins and their seats in the messroom without any help. The ship continued sailing – well functioning and with normal routines after a few hours – but with partly new crew members.

No other businesses, not even the smallest working site, could accomplish such a change-over without negative effects on its operation. On a ship, however, this could be done, even despite the fact that the crew regularly was multinational and organized in three departments.

However, such achievements had an effect on the individual seaman.

Officers and crew did not bond because each and every one was regularly replaced by someone else. Seamen generally did not expect to see each other again after disembarking. They therefore looked upon each other as casual workmates only. They seldom invested emotionally in each other and personal friendships became rare. Even interpersonal difficulties didn’t need to be solved because every seafarer had the possibility to leave after a relatively short period of time.

The Seaman’s Identity Was Left Ashore

Furthermore, shipmates normally didn’t use each others’ names; often they didn’t even know them. Instead, everyone was named by using the position or a slang word for the position, like “captain” or “the old man”, “the second”, “the first”, “the bosun”, “the cook”, meaning that everyone’s identity was limited to their position. A seaman’s true and personal identity was in general of no use. No one was interested and therefore most gave it up while onboard.

This came at a personal price – the seaman as an individual was not counted since each and every one was replaceable and only fitted into a fixed role onboard.

For those who have not sailed, this background is important to know. Those who have sailed, they already know.

Such a shadow from the past gives rise to a question about our own modern times:

Could this historic fact be the reason why many officers and crew even today feel they are not really counted – that they are still merely filling roles and not perceived as individuals?

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1. Aubert, Vilhelm and Arner, Oddvar: The Social Structure of the Ship, in Aubert, Vilhelm, (1965), The Hidden Society. The Bedminster Press, New Jersey.

About Personal Development

Personal and professional development is a process that, like all processes, inevitably takes time.

Three facts about personal development should always be considered:

1. Some people have drive – others have not.
2. You can not make someone else develop.
3. Development takes time, often longer than you think.

What you can do to help someone else to develop is by arranging a setting or a company structure that does not counteract or directly inhibit development, i.e. to create a set-up that facilitates for those who want to move and grow. You can, furthermore, encourage managers at all levels to keep their eyes open for people who have the drive, eagerness and potential. You can provide opportunities for development and use persuasion, but someone has to accept and grab those opportunities.

People will not develop if the setting and demands they meet are constant. Normally, changing situations help people develop, simply because they have to adapt. Contentment and satisfaction are not good vehicles for personal development. Dissatisfaction, emotional imbalance and even frustration are better driving forces.

Not everyone develops
People who have difficulties understanding how to develop will not develop. Some do not want to develop; they might be satisfied with how they are. Others lack drive. Many people do not value change – they are content to hold on to what is familiar in life. Others will not make the effort and invest energy in development and some lack the potential. However, all of them can still be good resources in their proper places.

For developing, you have to be willing and curious enough to take on novel challenges. You should shun stagnation. You should possess a drive to try out new things and ways, and to challenge and extend your personal limits.

Drivers for development:
• More money is one important driver.
• More responsibility is another driver, even more important.
• A more interesting job is a third and essential driver.
• Power – to gain influence, to be listened to and respected, and to be in control – is the most important driver – we all know that!

Successful people often have difficulties comprehending that others may prioritise other things in life than personal and professional development.

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About the concept "Situation Awareness"

The importance of knowing what is going on around you.

Proper Situation Awareness means the capacity to read and understand an ongoing situation correctly – to follow it – and to anticipate how it may develop.

Adequate Situation Awareness has been recognised as a critical foundation for successful decision-making, especially in complex and dynamic areas such as shipping and aviation.

In addition, inadequate Situation Awareness has been identified as one of the primary factors in accidents attributed to human error.

There are two main features that are important for Situation Awareness:

• the presence of accessible and reliable information;

• someone to process the information and draw correct conclusions from it.

An Individual Capacity

The capacity for Situation Awareness is a psychological capacity connected with the individual. Some have a natural capacity for objective and unbiased perception – thus adequate Situation Awareness. Others are more subjective; they might be slow to comprehend, turn a blind eye to vital information, make omissions and even evade perceiving a situation as it is.

Situation Awareness and Stress

Difficulties in maintaining proper Situation Awareness may be exacerbated in situations that are ominous or involving tension and anxiety, i.e. emotions that create stress. It is well known that stress negatively influences rational and objective perception by making us more subjective.

Closely connected with Situation Awareness are capacities like vigilance and presence of mind. Situation Awareness, vigilance, stress-resistance as well as presence of mind, are among the vital and safety-critical capacities a mariner needs to have.

Such capacities are included in a psychological assessment by Marine Profile.

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About Self-Confidence

Good confidence in oneself is one of the most important gifts in life. Confidence works as a psychological under-current, carrying other capacities and bringing them to the surface.

Capacities like intelligence, humeor, creativity, analytical skills and verbal and social talent will never develop fully unless carried forward by good self-confidence. Talented people with weak confidence can not make full use of their recources. They may be extremely talented, but without the support of good confidence, they have difficulties achieving their full potential in most contexts.

Self-confidence is about how an individual values his or her resources. Hence, what is important is not the existence of resources, but how the individual uses them.

High and Low Self-Confidence

Individuals with good self-confidence have no need to advertise themselves. They can keep a low profile, openly learn from others, and let others stand in the centre. They have no need to compare themselves with others and can therefore not be diminished. They are respectful towards things they don’t know or understand and their humbleness is real – not pretended.

Lack of self-confidence displays itself in two diffrent ways; by being inhibited and introverted – and by exactly the opposite.

The inhibited ones are often regarded as good, kind, a bit colourless and harmless. They may have great resources, but they seem to be stepping on the gas and the break at the same time. They don’t compete and they allow others to ignore on them. These are the individuals you tend to forget when making up a list of invitations and you really don’t notice when they leave.

Those who are the opposite compensate by demonstrating exaggerated self-confidence. They display self-assertion, they like confirmation, they are stuck-up, presumptuous or arrogant and they have an need for being admired. They compare themselves with others, which mean that people around them become important for their confidence. Such individuals therefore use others to generate their self-confidence.

Many psychologists have the opinion that good self-confidence begins at home. It is built by parents who value their childrens achievements, parents who encourage them to extend borders and who give recognition, support and praise for achievements. Self-confidence is strengthened in children who feel confident that the most important persons in the universe stand by their side.

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About Feedback

Criticism doesn’t develop anyone – but feedback might. Criticising normally implies blame or finding fault, except when the term refers to the analysis or evaluation of reviewers in certain fields.

Unlike ”criticism”, the word ”feedback” is neutral, i.e. it can be both positive and negative. Feedback aims at helping, supporting or correcting and is therefore beneficial for the receiver.

Some advice for a feedback session
Begin by being positive. In doing so, you set the tone for the session and show that you wish the receiver well from the start. The receiver should preferably look upon you as friendly person who is worth listening to. If you start with negative feedback, the receiver might regard you as unfriendly and might therefore stop listening. It is possible to formulate most things as positive advice while still being straightforward.

Use so-called ”I-messages”. Never begin with: ”You are …”, which could be perceived as you ascribing universal truth to your opinions – and this can be debated. Others may have quite different opinions concerning the receiver. The receiver’s mother, for one, may well have a totally opposite opinion. Let what you say emanate from yourself. This can not be questioned and if you happen to be the receiver’s boss, your opinion will be regarded as important, even if the receiver happens to disagree. Here are some suggestions for ”I-messages”:

– My opinion is that you could improve …
– I wish that you …
– I’d like you to …
– I understand that you …
– As I see it, you are …
– I would suggest that you …
– If you wish to become a … I would recommend …

Explain what you are satisfied with and what, in your opinion, could be developed. Give your personal opinion. Bring up difficult things towards the end and conclude with a summary.

Feedback is a life-long learning process
Feedback is not always outspoken or even explicit. All information gained from the surroundings is feedback because the results of someone’s behaviour is being fed back into the mental system from where the behaviour originated. Continuous feedback is therefore a process.
This holds true in skidpan driving, in sports, in close relationships as well as in professional life.
Feedback is a loop of information back into the system with potential to support some types of behaviour and correct others. In other words, it is especially valuable to receive verbalised, clear and friendly feedback from someone you hold in high regard.

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MP in Media

Article about Marine Profile in Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine

Summer 2015

Article about Marine Profile in Shipgaz

No 2 March 2009

Article about Human Error –  The Swedish Club Letter

No 2 2008

Article about Marine Profile in Lloyds Ship Manager

Nov 2003

Article about the human factor in Cruise and Ferry Info

Aug 1996