Safety Culture in Shipping – A Brief Overview

Marine Safety Culture is one of the most important aspects of shipping. It includes providing security to the life and property aboard a vessel and in the organization with the help of proper management, technology, and rules. Safety culture in an organization focuses on establishing a safe environment for people who work there and recognizing and preventing any mishaps that may occur.

The process of implementing safety culture in the company starts with understanding the key points of safety culture and then the steps organizations can take to improve it further.

Implementing Safety Culture in Shipping

Safety culture has been an integral part of the shipping industry for a long time now. People sometimes find the regulations laid down for marine safety to be a little cumbersome, but they have been responsible for saving many a life on and off seas. The recent fire off the Kandla port is an example of what happens when safety culture is lax and sailors do not adhere to regulations.

In order to implement a safety culture there are a few steps that need to be followed. These include:

  • Self-Regulation

Self-regulation requires an organization to set goals for its performance. Every individual working for the organization must take proper action and carry out his/her duties responsibly. Safety measures should be undertaken within the organization itself.

  • Compliance

The organization must be given a set of rules and regulations to be followed. Though compliance alone is not enough to prevent accidents from taking place, it helps if an organization adheres to the rules.

  • Remedial Measures

In a typical organizational culture based on the culture of punishment, if an accident occurs, the person responsible is called to account. The motive is to influence and change the behavior of people in the organization by issuing the threat of a punishment, thus enabling them to adopt a more alert behavior.

However, implementing these values is far from easy. People have to be groomed to take safety culture seriously over a period of time, until the values are internalized. To make implementation of safety culture better, let us first understand the key components of an ideal safety culture.

Safety_Culture_on_shipFig: Understanding Marine Safety Culture

What are the Key Components of an Effective Safety Culture?

  • Commitment of top-level management

It is vital that the management of any organization view safety culture as an investment and not a burden. The importance and the need for safety culture to be implemented starts at the top tiers of the organization. Without a strong leadership, the organization’s safety culture can be hard to improve.

  • 360-degree approach to training

Employees in an organization should be given the proper and updated training that can be effective in case of an accident. This includes providing information about competently carrying out safety operations, handling safety equipment and other life-saving appliances, safety procedures, and training in recognizing and avoiding safety hazards. A training regimen that guarantees an all-round coverage must be made mandatory by the organization.

After their training, employees should be made to understand why their near misses could be fatal and not simply blamed. An error on the part of the employee must be analyzed and checked, making the employee aware of his own fault. This policy enables the employee to learn from his mistakes, thus making him more careful in dealing with any other scenarios and reduces errors on his part.

  • Current performance analysis

The organization must establish a system to measure its performance. Without a system, it is impossible to keep track of the achievements of the personnel or to learn from the mistakes that have been previously made. Performance of the organization as a whole must be analyzed and improved constantly.

For instance, a monthly audit can be done to check employee performance and see which employees are consistently performing well, in terms of maintaining safety precautions and following regulations. These employees can be given some small reward or incentive to promote a healthy desire among others to follow their example.

  • Methods for improvement

Continuous implementation of proper rules and a commitment to safety can guarantee the improvement of an organization’s safety culture. The employees also need to reflect upon the improvements that can be done to improve the marine safety culture at an individual level.  

Having understood the key essentials of a healthy marine safety culture, let us now turn towards how can it be improved once in place.

With a view to understand the philosophy of marine safety culture in reputed ship manufacturing companies in India, we recently interviewed Mr. Rajiv Deshpande of SHM Shipcare. Mr. Deshpande, VP and HOD (Special Projects), manages a team of 30 service engineers conducting periodic safety inspection of life-saving equipments on Indian offshore platforms. Here is an excerpt from the same.

Interview on Marine Safety Culture with Mr. Rajiv Deshpande

Q1.What does the idea of Marine Safety Culture mean to you?

Mr. Deshpande: Marine safety culture is like performing pooja (daily rituals), or making meals in everyday life. We have all the material, we know all the steps, the procedure, and finally how to wind up the process. This happens automatically, as this knowledge has been passed on from generation to generation and drilled into our minds by our elders, from a young age.

Similarly, the material required and safety measures should be known to every person involved in a marine job, whether onshore or offshore. He/she should do his best in the implementation of these requirements while preparing for work, in every step of execution of the work, and before winding up the job.

Q2.What are the indicators that tell a company that they have shortfalls in their marine safety culture?

Mr. Deshpande: There are several markers that tell the company that their marine safety culture has some shortcomings.

  1. Regular failure of equipment/services
  2. Increase in near-miss incidents or accidents
  3. Lack of awareness of required documents and rules for services
  4. Non-completion of work during regular service and incomplete service reports
  5. Non-adherence to safety drills and training schedules
  6. Shortfalls like no follow-up service report and lack of vigilance in ensuring compliance

Q3.How do Indian companies tackle/implement marine safety on their vessels?

The first step is to organize the pre-service correspondence for scope of the work and the material required. This involves a toolbox meeting with a qualified service engineer. Having the required documentation in place, a checklist of system shutdown procedure and a checklist for system status before initiating the work, tools and materials issued by a qualified service engineer while performing the job, and presence of a TPI is a must.

The complete service report is issued with the shortfalls and the remedies for compliance of the same. It is also necessary to train the vessel crew as and when required. The last step is to follow-up with the client for remedying the shortfalls and submitting the final reports to the concerned authorities.

Q4.What are the practical problems in implementing marine safety culture in India? How can they be resolved?

The two major problems faced by marine safety culture in India are:

  • Lack of health, safety, and environment awareness and rules concerning the job in hand
  • Implementation of HSE codes in day-to-day work for better productivity and work-safe environment

This lack of compliance is observed in many accidents in India. For instance, there was a fatal accident on the ONGC offshore platform. During the maintenance activity of the high-pressure Halon system, the bolting of the cylinder was not inspected and the valves were not shut properly.

While the servicing was in progress, one of the valves opened accidentally and the cylinder was thrown out from its holding position, injuring the people nearby. This was because the checklist for system shutdown procedure and the checklist for system status before starting the work was not followed.

Q5.How does SHM provide training in the use of safety equipment?

Mr. Deshpande: SHM always drives itself to give the proper training to concerned people, as per the code of IMS mandated by the IMO. However, as learning is a continuous process, there is always scope to learn more; to do better today than yesterday and tomorrow than today.

This gives an excellent insight into the values of marine safety culture in shipping industries. Based on this, we can further extrapolate the ways in which organizations can improve their safety culture.

How Can Organizations Improve their Safety Culture?

Organizations can improve their safety culture in several ways. Some of these are outlined below:

  • Enabling their employees to follow their own ideas and encouraging them to execute them for the benefit of the organization.

This makes employees proactive and makes them feel that they are an integral part of the organization. When employees see their suggestion for safety being implemented on an organizational level, they are spurred to follow them more alertly.

Making the workers aware of the company’s plans and outlines before executing them and communicating with them is another way of ensuring that your employees know you are keeping them in the loop and taking their thoughts into account before issuing any declaration.

  • Implement a reporting policy where you record the achievements and mistakes for each day and learn from them.

This keeps your employees constantly aware of the safety precautions they need to follow and hence, on the alert for any mishaps that could occur. Simultaneously displaying their achievements and their awareness about safety concerns helps in boosting employee confidence.

  • Increasing motivation, communication, and teamwork.

This influences the quality of decision-making and creates a more positive safety culture.

Several leading shipping companies in our country have their independent work ethic and an individualistic safety culture.

Final Thoughts

We thus see that a positive maritime safety culture is imperative to carry out operations successfully. Numerous shipping organizations in India are constantly evolving to achieve the right balance of operations to create an ideal safety culture in the company.

Marine safety culture is an extremely important part of the day-to-day functioning of the company and hence, it is imperative that all organizations strive towards the ideal of a perfect safety culture.

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