The safe and effective operation of a ship depends upon a coherent set of control centres. These have evolved with shipping technology and manning; the radio compartment has come and gone, the engine control room grew and then changed focus from system control to system management, safety centres for passenger ships are still growing, cargo control has become more sophisticated, and the bridge has grown from a fairly simple space to a ship control centre filled with computing equipment.
9.2.1 The Bridge
Research into bridge ergonomics and maritime human factor issues began in the 1950s. Earlier references to ergonomics (in the 1930s and 1940s) in trade journals and magazines are brief and infrequent and centre on visibility from the bridge and communications on and beyond the ship. In 1959 the British Ministry of Defence commissioned a study on integration of systems and layouts of bridges (Millar and
Clarke, 1978). A decade later Esso commissioned a study of merchant tanker bridges (Mayfield and Clarke, 1977; Clarke, 1978). The first substantive treatment of human factors and ergonomics on merchant ships’ bridges seems to be a paper from 1971 (Wilkinson, 1971), which gives a thorough view on the evolution of bridges and bridge equipment, in particular from an ergonomic viewpoint. In Holland, human factors on the bridge have been considered and researched since the 1960s (Wal – raven and Lazet, 1964). In the 1970s there was a great deal of ergonomics research and development (Istance and Ivergard, 1978; Ivergard, 1976; Mayfield and Clarke, 1977; Proceedings of the Institute of Navigation National Maritime Meeting, 1977; Proceedings of the Symposium on the Design of Ships’ Bridges, 1978).
At that time, ergonomists believed that maritime ergonomics had ‘made a breakthrough’ (Mayfield, personal communication). Unfortunately, this positive trend did not continue. According to an official at the Swedish Maritime Authority, at least Swedish ship-owners felt swamped by all the new regulations put out by the Swedish Maritime Authority. It was too much, came out too fast, and the development of maritime ergonomics more or less ground to a halt around 1980. To be fair, this was in part also due to other factors such as the issues not being on the checklist of requirements of purchasers. However, the necessity of considering ergonomics on board ship, in the context of technology, has been written about for at least 35 to 40 years. Unfortunately the emphasis still is on making humans adapt to computers and technology, whatever their limitations.
Research since then has been more limited. A major string of projects was Advanced Technology to Optimise Maritime Operational Safety (ATOMOS) I through ATOMOS IV, initially technological but swiftly changing to become human centred. Other research has been on the human aspects of the system such as bridge resource management (BRM) and fatigue. However, new technology has been introduced on the bridge at a fast pace. For instance, global maritime distress and safety systems (GMDSS) made the radio operator redundant but at the same time introduced distractions to the bridge watch-keeper (Sherwood-Jones et al., 2006), automatic identification systems (AIS) added more distractions and complexity (Blomberg, Lutzhoft, and Nyce, 2005), and direct bridge control of more complex propulsion such as combined joysticks increased the mental workload of the operator. In sum, many systems have been added without a clear focus on the needs of the bridge watch-keeper, including some (perhaps too many) that do not ease the workload or simplify the task.