It is generally known that "human beings by their very nature make errors; therefore it is unreasonable to expect error-free human performance". Shappell & Wiegmann, 1997

Examples of some serious errors are Costa Concordia, Exxon Valdez, Prestige and Sea Diamond. They are all accidents that are associated in some way with human factor. All managing companies, all ship owning companies and generally all companies have Safety Management Systems and safety programs. So, why do they fail? The answer is because Safety is treated as an obligation or priority, but not as a VALUE! Not treating safety as a value, we are losing the possibility of integrating in the structure of the company.

According to Traditional Safety Approach, we are always targeting at the minimization of marine accidents. This happens with many ways, such as Safety Policy, Training, Meeting, Slogans, Awards, Committees & Councils, Regulations and Reprimands. When we are talking about maritime safety, we are actually talking about accidents (fire, explosion, grounding, collision). According to the well-known factor of 80/20%, the human factor is responsible for the 80% of the causes that lead to maritime accidents, whereas the rest of 20% is technological reasons and other factors. However, if we would like to decompose the word "human factor", we could say that we have two major pillars; the failure of professional culture and the failure of behavior.

In order to enhance and strengthen the final task or job performance, we have the integration of organizational culture (organization) and behavior skills (individual). In many high risk industries how do we pursue safety? By the well-known CRM (Crew Resource Management). According to Lauber (1984), "we use all the available resources (information, equipment, people) to achieve the target, which is safe and efficient operation". It all started back in aviation industry, however it has already passed in our own industry (BRM, ERM). The primary goals of CRM are:

  1. Mitigate the consequences of error (the error is there)
  2. Trap error (avoid some steps of its escalation)
  3. Avoid error

We can achieve that by CRM training, which is based on Non-Technical Skills training (NTS).According to the very used definition of Flin et al., NTS or Soft skills are the cognitive (situation awareness, decision-making), social (communication, teamwork, leadership) and personal resource (managing stress, coping with fatigue) skills that actually complement technical skills (for instance the knowledge of MARPOL or SOLAS) and contribute to safe and efficient task performance.

A new way to proceed this task for safe and efficient performance is Behavioral Based Safety (BBS). BBS steps in actually to eliminate/reduce the marginal or the remaining unsafe portion in our industry after the enforcement of legislation, the installation of new technology and new rules.



According to Dompke (2001) "The observed variability in behavior is attributable to differences in the person's characteristics, to differences in the situation and/or to the interplay of both. Human behavior (B) is a purposive reaction of a human being (P) to an idiosyncratic meaningful situation (S). Formally expressed: B= f (P,S)". A simplest definition is that behavior is anything that you see a person does; so if you can see it, then you are actually seeing BEHAVIOR.

Going further from the traditional approach, we have the BBS approach. The BBS approach has the safety activities and aims at fewer at-risk behaviors (conscious behavior, habitual behavior, unintentional behavior) in order to minimize accidents and enhance, increase and strengthen marine safety. More or less, BBS is about habitual and unintentional behavior (OOW falls asleep).

The focus of BBS is upon what people do, analyzes why they do it and then applies strategy to improve what they do. Moreover BBS studies at-risk behaviors that can lead to loss and safe behaviors that can contribute to loss prevention. Also, ways to prevent unwanted mistakes or errors in the front line are under the microscope, under the basics of BBS. This is very important, because we are not only interested in what went wrong, but in how we are conducting business.

So BBS is:

  • Safe Seafarers vs Safe Ships
  • Behavior Management
  • Observation & Feedback
  • Losses Equal Management Errors
  • Measure Behaviors vs Results
  • Positive Reinforcement, which can really provide impressive results.

BBS is not:

  • Based on assumptions, personal feelings;
  • Only about observation and feedback;
  • Concerned only about the behaviors of seafarers, but also of shore personnel;
  • A substitution for traditional risk management techniques;
  • About cheating & manipulating people;
  • A focus on accident rates without a focus on behavior;
  • A process that does not need employee involvement. BBS needs the involvement of all levels in a structured and systematic way.

According to the famous accident pyramid (near misses-property damage-minor injury-major-fatality), we have the BBS pyramid, which has an extra step in the base, prior to near misses. This extra step is at-risk behaviors. In this way, human behavior becomes observable and measurable. Therefore, we can manage it! This is very important, because if we can have such a model, which is well-calibrated, then training can have a completely different orientation and practice.

Attitudes are inside our head and it is really difficult to observe or measure it. However, attitudes can easily be influenced by altering behaviors. This happens because an attitude is in a specific time span a set of behaviors for certain topic or similar topics. So, this set of behaviors comes up with an attitude. If we can alter a behavior, then we can alter the attitude and the whole way of proceeding a situation.

We are using the so-called ABC model: B = f (C),

  • A stands for Antecedents (functions/events that trigger behavior, for example an emergency call)
  • B stands for Behavior (human performance)
  • C stands for Consequences (either reinforce or punish behavior)

Closing the reason why we have to implement BBS is because BBS is:

  • Generating safety culture;
  • Total involvement of company towards safety;
  • Establishes truly proactive safety;
  • Safety is about people;
  • Consequences drive behavior;
  • Motivating;
  • Performance feedback;
  • Broad awareness;
  • Proven effectiveness in other high risk industries (nuclear, aviation, railway industry)


Above article is an edited version of Dr Nikos Ventikos's presentation during 2013 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum

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