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DOSSIER

 

Is simulator training worth it?


Simulator training has been used in the maritime industry for decades, and is generally seen as a useful component in a seafarer’s education. But how valuable is this type of training in purely economic terms? Murray Goldberg, MLS, runs the numbers for Return on Investment from simulator training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For decades, simulation has been a part of maritime bridge and engine room training. But as with many safety initiatives, its effect can be somewhat difficult to quantify.

We all know, both intuitively and empirically, that simulator training has value. It extends a trainee’s experience base in both typical and atypical scenarios, providing an avenue for total task simulation in a safe environment. But while we all agree that simulator training is valuable, we also know that it comes at a very high cost. After all, simulation training is both expensive to create and maintain. Is the cost worth the value derived from simulator training?

Most will agree that simulator training is worth the cost, but this article will examine some recent research that attempts to derive a return-on-investment (ROI) for simulation. The maritime industry is operating on tighter margins, and having statistics to back up our intuition can help when investing in maritime IT and training.


Cost vs. Benefit

One compelling argument applied to safety training in general is that the value of one life saved is greater than any cost - as long as it is affordable.

If we believe that simulator training has the potential to save one life, then it is worth any costs associated with it. Therefore, no further analysis is necessary.

However, there are real problems with that line of reasoning. First, it does not provide us with any basis on which we can compare other safety initiatives. It may be that simulator training does provide value and is worthwhile, but that there is some other safety initiative that can save more lives at a far lower cost. Unless we assess the costs and value of each we are unable to make informed decisions.

A second issue is that without a cost benefit analysis, implementation decisions can become more emotional than logical. If it can be shown that simulator training actually saves money through a reduction in accident-related costs or performance issues, then perhaps its use would be even more widespread than it already is.

This is exactly the question addressed by a very interesting maritime education and training paper given by Capt. Stephen Cross of the Maritime Institute Willem Barentsz in West Terschelling, the Netherlands. I’ve had the good fortune to meet Capt. Cross and his paper, ‘Aspects of Simulation in MET - Improving Shipping Safety and Economy’, presents a concrete view of the economic effects of simulator training. The results are compelling.

Capt. Cross expressed the motivation of his study as follows:
“If simulator training can improve safety of operations, this would result in fewer accidents, which in turn will save funds, which could be used to afford the additional training efforts.”
“Additionally, if the amount of the increased costs of training is compared to the funds spent presently on damages from acci­dents, a simple cost benefit analysis could show if such training efforts are worthwhile.”

In order to conduct the deceptively sim­ple cost-benefit analysis, Capt. Cross needed to look at a wide array of information related to the desired objectives, the current conditions of MET and maritime operations. He then had to study (and some­times project) the consequences of change.

To give you some idea as to the complexity of the study, Capt. Cross proceeded along the following path.

First he determined what percentage of maritime accidents were attributable to human error. Next, he determined what percentage of these accidents could be attributed to training shortcomings.

After that he determined what percent­ages of competencies could be improved by simulator training. Finally, he had to determine by how much the above compe tencies could be improved through simulator training.

Multiplying the various percentages together gave an estimate of the reduction in accidents through the use of simulator training. With that information, he could then look at the cost of simulator training in order to compare it to the cost savings through a reduced number of accidents. His analysis will be summarised below.

Finding the Percentages Please note that in the interest of space, only a portion of Capt. Cross’ analysis can be presented here. I encourage you to read the paper for full details and further insight, but the following should help to present an overview of his findings.

Human Error: Many studies have shown that human error was and continues to be the underlying cause of the majority of maritime incidents. To determine a specific percentage, Capt. Cross looked at the Norwegian DAMA database of accidents for the Safeco project (EU 4th FP, Safeco, 1996).

It was shown that from 1981 to 1996, of the 5400 accidents that were included and the 1100 that were fully analysed, 80 per cent could be attributed to human factors while 20 per cent of the accidents were caused by technical factors.

Finding: Human error was the underlying cause of 80 per cent of maritime accidents.

Lack of Sufficient Training: Looking at how training influences accidents, Capt. Cross looked at a number of studies which evaluated the causes of accidents. Among them he cites three in particular.

The first study, ‘Accidents at sea: Multiple causes and impossible consequences’, from Wagenaar and Groenegweg found that 35 per cent of accidents were caused by improper training. Another 46 per cent of accidents were due to bad habits, which could be influenced by procedural training. Combining the two gives a total of 81 per cent of accidents that were influenced by training.

A second study from Kinzo Inoue found that 55 per cent of maritime accidents were collisions and another 15 per cent were groundings. Although technical failure could account for a portion of these types of accidents, this also implies that up to 70 per cent of reviewed accidents could have been avoided with better trained personnel.

The last study referred back to the Safeco project. Capt. Cross found that of the human error related accidents, 41 per cent of them indicated a lack of knowl­edge, skills and attitude, all of which could be improved by training. A further 37 per cent of human error related accidents were due to a lack of operational procedures.

Together, this means that 63 per cent of the investigated accidents could have been influenced and possibly partly avoided with better training.

Capt. Cross concludes that “it seems conservatively acceptable to say that from 65 per cent upward of the investigated casualties has relevance to (lack of) sufficient training”

Finding: A lack of sufficient training could be attributed to 65 per cent of maritime accidents.

Simulator Training Applicability: Although simulation training is a very thorough training tool, not all competencies needed for safe operations can be taught and practiced with simulation training. Thus the next step was to determine what percentage of competencies were, in fact, ‘teachable’ via simulator training.

Capt. Cross looked at the STCW Code Part A and made a count of the number of competencies or skills, per function and level, where simulators were indicated.

This number was then compared to the total number of competencies per function and level to give an approximate percentage of simulator applications. Capt. Cross’ results showed that an average of 58 per cent of competencies and skills indicated simulator training.

Finding: 58 per cent of mariner competencies could be taught and practiced with simulator training.
Competency Improvement Through Simulator Training: Finally, Capt. Cross needed to determine the level of improvement in performance that could be achieved through simulator training.

To do so, the study provided simulator training to groups of mariners, both experienced and inexperienced. It then looked comprehensively at the outcomes of exercises for these groups over the time that they were involved in the training.

In the end, both groups (experienced and inexperienced) benefitted significantly from simulator training. Based on Capt. Cross’ observations, there was an average performance improvement of 45 per cent that could be assumed due to simulator training.

Finding: An average of 45 per cent performance improvement is due to simulator training.

 

Putting the Numbers Together

Capt. Cross took the findings above to arrive at a conservative estimate of the accident reduction possible via simulator training. The ultimate result, 14 per cent, is shown in his table above.

Capt. Cross’ analysis has estimated that through the appropriate application of simulator training, 14 per cent of maritime accidents could be avoided. What does this mean for the economics of simulator training versus the cost of accidents?

Capt. Cross indicates in his paper that there are many potential cost savings available through improved operations from simulator training, even when ignoring the potential for accidents. But to look at accident costs in particular, he cited the claims history of the International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund over the period of its existence.

Even though the IOPC Funds claims represent a fraction of the cost of maritime accidents worldwide, they are well docu­mented and thus provide a reliable source of information on accident costs. The results are impressive. According to Capt. Cross:

“Over the 28-year period of [IOPCF] observations used, at least US$856 million have been claimed for accidents which in some way have a relationship to bridge, engine room or cargo handling procedures. ... [A reduction of] 14 per cent related to the simulator training course cost would allow for at least 376,946 ‘average’ student simulator courses to be afforded.”
“As this figure is almost similar to the global officer population it means every officer could be afforded a simulator training course from the avoided accident claim costs of the IOPC Fund relevant accidents.”
So - if the 14 per cent accident reduction estimate is accurate, and it is applied to the relevant IOPC funded accidents, the cost saved could provide every officer in the world with a simulator training course. And since there are far more accidents (and their related costs) than are funded by the IOPC, the conclusion is that simulator training has the effect of both reducing costs and improving safety - a win-win.

Capt. Cross’ analysis is a compelling argument for simulation training as both a cost-saving measure and a safety improvement measure. Even if you find an argu­ment with one or another of the numbers presented in his analysis, one could argue that the ‘margin of safety’ in the analysis is very large. That is, it seems unlikely that his assessment could be so far off as to make simulation training a net cost, as opposed to a net saving.

And even if it were a net cost, as unlikely as that might be, we can go back to the original visceral argument: if one life is saved, then any affordable cost is one well spent.

 

DS

 

 

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