The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the federal government’s chief investigator of transportation accidents, has released its Most Wanted List of Transportation Safety Improvements. Updated every two years, the list pinpoints dangers and publicly demands solutions. The list sometimes gets quick results.

The 2019–2020 report includes a “Top Ten List” of goals, including two especially vital to maritime workers. In addition to avoiding cellphone and other distractions, the NTSB vividly warns us to reduce accidents related to fatigue.

Death before dawn caused by fatigue

In the wee morning hours one Saturday in March 2016, the towboat Specialist struck a construction barge in the Hudson River at the Tappan Zee Bridge. It sank fast and three crewmembers died.

The official report cited other deficiencies and missteps, but it ultimately found “that the probable cause of the collision and sinking of the Specialist was inadequate manning resulting in fatigued crewmembers.”

The NTSB’s Top Ten List warns that bad-quality and too little sleep can hurt the crew’s ability to stay awake, alert and attentive while doing potentially dangerous work. Often, the fatigue itself may make it hard to recognize the fatigue’s effects until an accident occurs, with sometimes-fatal consequences. “This is particularly true in high-tempo sectors, such as the fishing industry,” the Top Ten List says.

A very preventable hazard with well-known solutions

In its high-profile, headline-grabbing report, the NTSB warns vessel owners and operators to make it routine procedure to prevent dangerous levels of fatigue by guaranteeing that crew has enough time to rest.

Fatigue, the agency says, is a “manageable threat to transportation safety” and the solutions to minimizing that threat are sound regulations based on solid scientific findings, comprehensive management programs to control the risks from fatigue and stressing individual responsibility for following through on these solutions.