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Identifying chronic unease onboard

Identifying chronic unease onboard
March 19th, 2018

Chronic unease is the experience of unease and discomfort regarding the management of risks. It’s that feeling in the pit of your stomach when something doesn’t feel right and sends off alarm bells. Those in a complex work environment such as onboard a ship need to be particularly aware of the risks to themselves and others, writes Wallem’s Subramanian Rajajopal.

At Wallem, we are focused on creating greater awareness on the issue of chronic unease in line with our safety goal of zero injuries, zero spills and zero accidents. Shell’s video on chronic unease, which has been distributed to all our offices and ships, highlights that just because an incident hasn’t yet happened, doesn’t mean that it won’t. And in fact that every incident-free day that passes might increase the chance of one happening. Why? Complacency. We stop feeling uneasy. We stop looking for weak danger signals. We stop thinking, ‘What else can we do to ensure safety?’. This is something that we all do; it is part of human nature to think that ‘It won’t happen here to me, now.’ But it so easily can, and that’s why it’s so important to demonstrate your chronic unease.

What is healthy chronic unease?

A healthy level of chronic unease ensures that weak danger signals are not missed. An example is a vessel approaching a port with a three-mile-long entrance channel. Tugs are required for proceeding into the channel. The pilot on board informs the master that the tug would be joining the vessel before entering the channel at the entrance buoy. When the vessel is around three miles from the entrance buoy, the master notices that the tug is not coming down the channel. Chronic unease would make the master engage with the pilot to check on the status of the tug. It is possible that the tug is delayed by a few minutes. However, it is also possible that the tug is not able to depart from the docking berth due to engine failure or is delayed considerably in a previous operation. Healthy chronic unease would ensure that the master engages with the pilot and the operation is delayed or aborted.

How can chronic unease be measured?

A seafarer or senior officer on board can measure the extent of his or her chronic unease for various work risks such as maintenance work, etc. on a level of ‘not uneasy at all’ to ‘very uneasy’. Lack of chronic unease can lead to complacency. Each senior officer or leader must ensure that they have a healthy amount of chronic unease to remain alert and manage risks effectively. This will help increase safety and contribute towards operational excellence.

What is a healthy amount of unease?

Having a healthy amount of unease is a fine balance. Too little might lead to complacency, so that warning signals are ignored, ambiguities are marginalized, and negative indicators and adverse consequences rarely considered. Too much might cause anxiety, affect decision-making, action and even mental health in the long run.

Maintaining a healthy level of unease demonstrates that safety is a priority. Chronic unease can be channelled into to positive action to improve safety onboard.