University Of Tasmania

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Merchant shipping's reliance on learning from incidents - a habit that needs to change for a challenging future

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-19, 05:43 authored by Pomeroy, RV, Earthy, JV
The safety record of the international merchant shipping industry has shown a continual improvement for a prolonged period due to its ability to learn from incidents and prevent recurrence; through training, education, technology development and regulatory change. However, the annual rate of ship losses has remained relatively unchanged in recent years. The industry has become accustomed to a safety regulatory regime based heavily on embedding lessons from incidents. That regime has served it well for more than a century but the industry is experiencing rapid change, which presents a challenge to this approach.This paper reviews the development of the maritime safety regulatory regime and the 'proof of need' attitude to new regulations that has been created. Regulators face challenges with changes in both technology and the operational model and the paper discusses these in the context of the desire to prevent future casualties without waiting for incidents. As future societal demands lead to the introduction of novel technology in order to solve massive challenges such as climate change the risks of incidents are likely to increase. The conclusion reached is that the industry has a strong culture based on a backward-facing approach to learning from incidents but to maintain a continual improvement in safety it has to adopt a forward-facing approach of similar rigour, using some form of 'learning without the incidents'. A way forward is postulated where 'synthetic lessons' from simulated incidents that have not actually happened are 'learned' and accepted as justification within the safety regulatory regime.


Publication title

Safety Science










Australian Maritime College


Elsevier Science Bv

Place of publication


Rights statement

Copyright 2017 Elsevier Ltd.

Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Water safety