Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Demographics and Maritime Safety

Last week I was in New Orleans and the National Maritime Safety Association (NMSA) conference. My role was as a speaker on demographic effects and this gave me an opportunity to look at some of the demographic changes that are impacting the industry in the US and beyond. Demographics is a term that just means population characteristics (gender, age, occupation…). The association is interested in that range of activities that are involved in and about the shipping, terminal services, stevedoring and related businesses.

  • The population of dockworkers and drivers working from terminal operations in the US has some interesting characteristics. As a group, according to one California study, they have a heart disease death rate that is higher than the rest of the population—49% higher for drivers and 32% higher for dockworkers.

  • In the UK, a recent study listed the fatality rates of ‘dockers and stevedores’ at 28 per 100,000. That would make this cluster of occupations the second most deadly in the UK.

  • A report out of New Zealand noted that the current average age of ‘Able Seamen’ is 54 years. It also noted that 72% of this group has 30 years of work experience at sea, and 17% with more than 40 years’ experience at sea. The demographic issues are pretty clear: Who will replace these workers as they age and leave the industry?

  • An Australian report noted that there is a skill shortage for occupations related to their ports. It warned of a drastic depletion of skills due to the ageing workforce; moreover, the population of young people who would be available to fill those jobs is being offered many other alternative career paths.

The bottom line for this industry (and many others) is that there are going to be fewer young workers and many more older workers. Older workers may well stay beyond the ages of retirement in the past to fill the demand. It also means that many older workers will be in specific jobs they might not otherwise have performed in the past. As one attendee at the event noted, during the recession, many of the first workers to be laid off were the younger ones. This meant that many older workers had to do jobs that they had not done in years and jobs that had changed due to technology. As we know, new workers (even if they are older workers) in new jobs are generally at higher risk of work-related injury.

Two presentations at the event were of particular interest. The first was from a firm called Flight Level Solutions. The founder and leader of this group was a military fighter pilot and the team he works with includes an astronaut. They specialize in Crew Resource Management, a training approach that is origins in flight operations but is now being applied to diverse areas such as healthcare, public safety and manufacturing. The basic premise from a prevention perspective is that “Safety is a by-product of Standardized Execution”. The parallels to Six Sigma, Lean and TQM are obvious but the emphasis on cognitive and interpersonal skills is substantially higher in CRM. In the wake of the PB disaster, this approach may offer another avenue toward safety.

Finally, I was really impressed with the work being done by Louisiana Immersive Technologies Enterprises  for the Louisiana Department of Transportation. The technology demonstrated was a 3d interactive environment in which learners had to correctly position flag persons around a curve using a typical gaming controller. I subsequently found a brief article on the net. The speaker identified a couple of differences among learner groups. Learners who were gamers (mostly younger but not exclusively) immediately ‘got it’ and could apply what they had learned in lectures to this virtual world simulation. Others took a while to get the hang of it. With the gaming industry now exceeding the revenues of the film industry, the population of those who know how to game and operate in these immersive environments is likely to grow. There may be many more applications for this sort of learning in the future.

So demographics and maritime safety are linked both in the impact that demographic changes are going to have on the industry and on the technologies and training that will be needed to reach/teach/enable workers in the next couple of decades.

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