DNV – beware new safety risks from new systems

Jun 15 2021

New digital and environmental technologies can mean that ships are exposed to new risks – such as cyber incidents, alarm ‘floods’, and problems due to lack of crew familiarity with new fuel systems, says DNV in a white paper. But the solution is with people, not machines.

New digital and environmental technologies will mean that ships are operated in different ways, and new risks will be introduced. So it is important that shipping companies think carefully about them.


That is the topic of a DNV white paper, “Closing the safety gap in an era of transformation”.


Considering the potential benefits of these technologies, it would be a pity if the increased risks became an obstacle to their roll-out, says Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen, CEO Maritime with DNV.


Examples of sources of increased safety risks are cybersecurity risks, automation systems which crew are unfamiliar with or which is hard to use, and new fuels which people are not so familiar with.


Also, remote operations mean that people are working together in new ways, so conventional methods for spotting and mitigating risks may no longer work.


“Safety at sea is our purpose as a classification society. So we have put a lot of effort into investigating what we see as a looming safety gap,” he said.


“With all eyes focused on digitalisation and decarbonisation, we want to highlight the importance of the industry staying just as committed to safety,” added Fenna van der Merwe, Principal Consultant in Human Factors, Safety, Risk & Reliability at DNV and project manager for the white paper. “We have to make sure the future isn't compromised.”


“Complex innovative technology is key to making these transformations happen, but it is not enough. We need to strike a balance between focus on this technology, and focus on the human element and organisational element. It is that interaction which creates that emerging property of safety.”


Defining safety

Safety can be defined as a property of maritime systems which are “resilient, robust, and have processes in place for continuous improvement,” Ms van der Merwe said.


“Robustness” can come from the systems we have in place, including regulatory frameworks.


“Resilience” is more of a human factor. “When we talk about resilience we are referring to this proud history of seamanship. People have been able to catch on and react to unforeseen circumstances, have led the way in being agile, to make the best of the situation.”


“Situations today may be safe, but we can't assume they will be safe tomorrow.”


“We need processes of continuous improvement to get that feedback loop going, to support an increased robustness in maritime systems.”


Human, organisational, technical

The core idea could be described as “holistic risk understanding”, covering human, organisational and technical elements.


The biggest safety gaps may be in the interaction between these elements.


For example, an alarm system is an interaction between the technical system and a person. If it does not help the person understand the problem, the interaction is not working.


People need to feel that whatever ‘smart solution’ provided to them is actually helping them do their work better.


“If we leave out any of these parts of the equation we can't be sure we have the total risk picture in place,” she said.



One particular challenge with digitalisation is that “it brings about a lot of system complexity,” particularly with systems getting more interconnected, leading to underperformance and other difficulties, she said.


Traditional risk management approaches, focussing on reliability of individual components, a bottom-up approach, are not enough.


You need to supplement it with a top down approach, looking at the system as a whole, and with more testing / verification, she said.


Another change driven by digitalisation is remote working – work being moved from ship to shore, and people working in dispersed teams in different locations.


“This can be very effective in terms of the type of expertise and also the productivity of collaboration. But we can't just assume that people will still be working in traditional ways.”


“People will communicate in different ways, the responsibilities of specific roles change, the information requirements change. All of these influence people’s ability to work.”


Sometimes there are choices of what work can be done by machines and what is done by people. Each should do what they are best at, but the whole thing should be centred around the human, not the machine, she said.


“What technology is better at doing than people is mundane, tedious jobs that are done over and over again. We don't need to spend our human ability to think creatively about those tasks,” she said.


“We need to invest in our ability to think more strategically, more tactically in the importance of operations. Let’s focus more on how we can use this problem solving ability and ingenuity to really optimise maritime operations, and leave the more boring and tedious work to the systems.”


“We shouldn't be afraid that technology is taking over some parts of operations, that free up time for us to work on what we are really good at.”


Another change is that organisations are drawing expertise more and more from sub suppliers and vendors. While it is useful to draw on multiple sources of expertise, it is also important that everyone can see the overall risk picture and mitigation measures, “so everyone has their nose in the same direction.”


DNV was involved in a project to address alarm ‘flooding’ and the system integration and standardisation needed to combat it, engaging with representatives of the whole supply chain.


“On a bridge there’s a lot of beeping, honking, with alarms really distracting the mariner from their tasks,” she said. “This can create a so-called ‘cry wolf’ scenario. The mariner doesn't focus on the alarm which should draw their attention, which is a huge safety risk.”


“There are huge challenges understanding what the situation is at hand, knowing what the cause and effect is, trying to understand the text message that goes alongside the alarm.”


DNV recommends appointing someone in the role as ‘system integrator’ early in the process of designing a bridge system. This person can “act as a spider in the web, oversee the whole process of alert management systems, and improve the presentation of alerts,” she said.


There can be enhanced verification processes, such as a “hardware in the loop” test.


There could be joint industry projects working on creating systems which present the exact right information at the right time and in the right way to the right person.


Any digital transformation strategy needs to include a management of change process, so people at the top of the organisation are monitoring how the risk picture may be changing.



In the world of decarbonisation, new risks may be introduced from using new fuels, which involve new organisational and technical aspects.


Risks can be made worse by the “silo-isation” of industry departments. This means that knowledge held by one department may not be shared with another that needs it.


Shipping companies may not be able to rely on regulations to enforce adequate safety management, because regulations can only usually be written after technology has been developed.


“While we're waiting for regulatory frameworks to become more robust, it is up to the industry to work together, through exchange of experience and knowledge, to build that robust system.”


We need “to take care to develop the marine competence, and competence development programs” about different fuels. “Making people aware of the risks that can be out there so they can manage them in due course.”


“We call it ‘creative worry’ – so you become very risk aware. You close the loop of continuous improvement, by reporting incidents and reporting best practises.”


“When I talk about humans I’m talking about people. Not just seafarers, also maintenance engineers, suppliers, vendors, managers on shore, the people behind the regulations,” she said.


“We all have a piece to contribute to the puzzle. We have this tremendous effort to be creative and resourceful, in our ingenuity and problem solving ability, which technology has not been able to substitute for us.”


“We can support performance, so people are able to do things right and prevent them from doing things wrong.”


“Every maritime stakeholder has a responsibility  and ability to really make sure we create safe and efficient operations, and to scaffold the social, mental and physical wellbeing of people.


“We are more than ever before coming to the realisation the people are the key, whether you are onboard the vessel or helping support managing the vessel from the shore side,” added DNV’s maritime CEO, Knut Ørbeck-Nilssen.


“This is a big part of the message in the white paper that Fenne presented. How can we, collectively as an industry, increase the level of knowledge amongst, for instance, the seafarers.”


“The challenge is that systems, as described, are becoming more complex, more integrated, more controlled by software in the background. It is not like it used to be in the old days where you could easily see the diagram on the wall of the ballast system. You switch here and there and understand easily how everything works.”


One of the best ways to better familiarise people with how technology works can be e-learning. “We have an amazing opportunity with modern technologies to simulate, do training. That could be on the operational issues, also on managing hazards and incidents,” he said. These simulators are becoming more available.”


Another important way that people maintain safety is through surveyors, such as those employed by classification societies like DNV.


“Surveyors have for years been going onboard the vessel, checking out a lot of details, some really important things,” he said. “A lot of what can be seen to be not as important, but if neglected over time, could easily develop into something important.”


As people, “we have the best sensors,  a brain that can rationalise, we are really fast to understanding situational complexity.


“If we have more time to devote to those areas, by not been pre-occupied with manual tasks, these will be the main tools to help us manage a situation.”


How to move forward

The white paper itself is intended to “offer a framework as a basis for discussion that starts with collaboration.”


The discussion should be about how “to get this framework into place so we can look forward and see how we can meet these ambitions in a more digitalised and decarbonised future,” Ms van der Merwe said.


Moving forward with measures such as appointing additional people as ‘systems integrators’, will mean additional costs for shipping companies, which they will not be very enthusiastic about.


The paper does not look at the costs at this stage – although the costs are clearly lower than the costs of major accident.


“The cost of safety is not an addition, but rather as part of the overall investment in digitalization and decarbonization if we want to succeed in achieving safe and timely digitalization and decarbonization,” Ms van der Merwe said.


DNV services

DNV has a class notation for “Enhanced System Verification (ESV)”, including services related to “Hardware in the Loop” (HIL) testing.


It also has class notation for “Integrated Software Dependent Systems (ISDS)”.


“These are examples of initiatives that promote testing and verification throughout the system life cycle to ensure that complex systems work together when they are needed the most,” Ms van der Merwe says.


DNV GL’s digital features rules for ship classification which entered into force on 1 January 2021 also provide a framework for assessing and visualizing digital features of vessels, she says.


This offers stakeholders a platform for demonstrating cutting-edge technologies and unlocking the value that is brought to the market.


Another related document from DNV is one about competence related to onboard use of LNG as a fuel standard (2014).


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