Apr 042011

Don Cockrill is a familiar name to MAC. He is chairman of the UK Maritime Pilots Association, a Pilot at Port of London Authority and, like MAC, a gorilla enthusiast. To be more precise, an invisible gorilla enthusiast.

The invisible gorilla differs from that other member of the human factor menagerie, the Elephant In The Room, in that everyone knows the elephant is there but nobody wants to admit seeing it while folk don’t see the gorilla in the room because they are too focussed on one task and loose situational awareness.

In the latest MAIB Safety Digest Don writes: “Being aware of our own fallibility adds a significant enhancement to any training regime or the compliance with an operational code of practice. There are numerous published works on the subject, but one I can recommend that amusing and very relevant is the memorably titled The Invisible Gorilla“.

Don Cockrill, invisible gorilla enthusiast

In fact ‘paying attention’, or increasing focus on the task at hand often reduces our ability to see the Invisible Gorilla. It is an effect well known to magicians like Uri Geller who take advantage of psychology and neurophysiology to work their wonders well out in the open yet few see them.

Implied in Don’s commentary is that training and teaching the fallibility of human perceptions would be an enhancement to any training programme.

He also says: “It is worth reflecting on why it is, that despite comprehensive regulation, numerous operational codes of practice and ever schemes, so many accidents (or rather, failures of risk management) still occur in commercial
shipping. Sometimes it can be a result of system fatigue or old age. However, in reading through the following reports (In the Safety Digest) it is clear that as ever, there are many cases where the accident illustrated in the reports, include a common human desire, particularly strong in seafarers, to get the job done as a first priority. This is often with complete disregard to personal risk, perhaps due (especially in the current economic climate) to minimal profit margins and so any
delay is financially damaging. Alternatively, perhaps the programmed maintenance regime is dispensed with to save expenditure on parts and labour. Managerial pressures, often inferred by those tasked with achieving a goal
Examples are insuffi cient or incorrect use insufficient personnel delegated. Such inferred pressures are not limited to those on board, shore managers are equally susceptible.

Sometimes, we take routine tasks for granted. Most of us have experienced fi nishing a task only to realise that we have no recollection of actually doing it. The problem is of course that because we may not have full concentration on
the task in hand, we overlook the simplest of unexpected and undesirable occurrences and may make mistakes which can lead to a serious accident. Fatigue, too, can play a major part in this, not only by causing lack of concentration
but simply a sort of numbing of the mind to the matter in hand and increasing vulnerability to distractions. In even the apparently simplest breaks to ensure continuity of concentration”.


MAIB Safety Digest

See also:

Is that a Gorilla On The Bridge Or Are You Just Glad To Not See Me? Intuition And The Human Element

What you see isn’t what you get


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