Take human behaviour into account, and improve your fire safety

ship

New knowledge about human behaviour can be applied to the design of ships and their fire safety plans. This leads to more safety and minimises the risk of lives and assets being lost.

It is not enough to look to preventive measures and technical solutions if you want to ensure fire safety on ships. If you solely focus on this, you are not taking into account the most frequent cause of fires – human behaviour. Experts from the US Coast Guard believe that this is the cause of almost all fires on ships. If you take behaviour into account, however, you can make more realistic risk assessment and make better plans for the fire strategy – and safety.

– It leads to better fire safety, and we expect this will lead to less casualties in the event of fires and less assets being lost. But it requires a great deal of knowledge within the area, and we haven’t had that before now, says Thomas Hulin, Project Manager at DBI – The Danish Institute of Fire and Security Technology.

Small factors with great consequences
That knowledge has been gained through anthropological studies of human behaviour during incidents at sea. It has provided DBI with insights into a number of factors that are not covered by any guidelines, but which have significant consequences in the event of a fire. For example, a ship’s fire safety strategy is based on every crew member knowing precisely what to do if a fire breaks out. But the training for that might have taken place after the members of the crew had just flown halfway across the world to sign on – in other words, at a time when they were not really ready to be instructed.

Another example is that different cultures and languages found among a multinational crew makes communication difficult during a fire. Or perhaps spaces are being used in a different way that the fire strategy requires – for example, flammable materials might be stored near a potential source of ignition. Each of those examples may have far-reaching consequences for whether a fire will occur and spread.

A holistic approach leads to better safety
The new knowledge makes it possible to add the human factor to the fire strategy and to take it into account when designing ships.

– It makes it possible to have a holistic approach where you don’t just focus on technical solutions and regulations, but also focus on how people act and react. It leads to far more realistic scenarios and can, among other things, be used with the FMEA methodology (Failure Mode and Effects Analysis). The robust experience on the area can be translated into specific designs, and even the early design will allow one to see where the critical points will be, says Thomas Hulin.

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