Safety at sea: The human factors

Oct 8th, 2014

By Michelle Osmond

Safety at sea: The human factors

For kinesiology graduate Steve Mallam the connections between Sweden and Newfoundland are a natural fit. The common theme: Keeping people safe at sea.

Human factors are an important, but often not mentioned, element of the maritime industry. However, the Maritime Human Factors
 Department of Shipping and Marine Technology at Chalmers University of Technology is dedicated to making life safer at sea.

“The Scandinavian perspective and development of maritime safety are world leading, both in research and pragmatic application. There is definitely a synergy between the Chalmers and Memorial which impacts the advancements for both societies who share such similar issues,” explained Mr. Mallam.

A few years ago, when Dr. Scott MacKinnon, associate dean of graduate studies and research with the School of Human Kinetics and Recreation (HKR), started looking internationally for maritime human factors research collaborators his first stop was Chalmers. That was ten years ago.

With years of seafaring history, a significant maritime transportation economy and researchers recruited from industry, Dr. MacKinnon found Swedish researchers to be a natural partnership.

Chalmers is located in Gothenburg, Sweden and although it only has about half the student population as Memorial, the two have a strong connection to the water.

“There are many parallels between St. John’s and Gothenburg. In terms of ocean science research and in particular safety at sea we face many of the same issues and concerns due to the similarities in climate, geography, maritime culture, history and their dependency and connection with the sea,” Mr. Mallam noted.

According to Mr. Mallam, Gothenburg is one of northern Europe’s largest shipping ports. “The work I do at Chalmers is so integrated into the culture here, people see and understand the importance and impact of the ocean maritime safety here; very much the same way as Newfoundland’s identity and culture is tied to the sea.”

“I’ve been really lucky to be able to combine my work and research to have a positive effect on maritime safety and an area so ingrained in both Newfoundland’s and Western Sweden’s societies,” he added.

While Mr. Mallam, (B.Kin)(co-op)’09 (MSc.)(Kin)’12, was completing his master’s degree in offshore safety with Dr. MacKinnon, Chalmers held a conference where he presented his research and essentially entered into a full week job interview with the university. So far Mr. Mallam is the first and only full time PhD student there from HKR. He’s about half way through a five-year contract working on his PhD with the Human Factors Group. 

Along with student exchanges, Memorial and Chalmers collaborate on research projects. The first official project Dr. MacKinnon and his group worked on together was on engine control room ergonomics with a PhD student. That led to search and rescue research, which took place in the new simulator at the Faculty of Engineering. “From a pure maritime ergonomics and human factors perspective, our research might be the first. The research area is growing so we’re looking to build capacity both in sharing expertise but availing of each others human and physical resources,” said Dr. MacKinnon.

Since then, they have collaborated on a project looking at the concept of unmanned vessels. Other countries are also involved in the group including Germany, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Iceland and Ireland. 

 “These relationships have turned into trans-Atlantic research collaborations and student exchanges that will benefit both Newfoundland and Labrador and Sweden for years to come,” noted Dr. MacKinnon. “Our work is leading to innovation and discovery that will not only benefit their economies but improve safety and life at sea.”



School of Human Kinetics and Recreation

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