Kostas Vlachos , COO, CMM (Latsis group) presented “Challenges in promoting a safer operating environment on board” at the 2015 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum. He referred to the challenges for a safer environment onboard stating that from a tanker’s owner prospective accidents may occur due to either improper shipboard implementation by crew or the wrong way that messages from lessons to learnt are passed from top to bottom or numerous ineffective control mechanisms (e.g. audits) that fail to operate properly. He focused on providing guidance and answers on how to properly manage these three challenges.
My presentation focuses on the Challenges for Promotion a Safer Operating Environment onboard from the Operators perspective.
The tanker safety has improved vastly in the past decades following the full implementation of the ISM Code and the TMSA Requirements. If you see at the graphs showing the maritime casualties, the serious oil spills, the lives lost on board the last two decades, you will see a declining trend. But are we satisfied with the current situation? To be honest, the answer is no. We are not still satisfied because accidents continue to happen and occur. There are still system processes, behavior actions of people onboard and ashore which are really challenging for promotion a safe environment onboard. Which are these challenges? For me, the first one is the human factor, the second one is to learn from the incidents and the third are the effective and optimized audits.
Regarding the human factor, the following questions need to be addressed: Do the rules and the processes today present the proper framework for a safe condition onboard? Are the people onboard well trained and competent? Have we developed and established a safety culture? Talking about the systems and the processes and more specifically, talking about the ship boarding management system, we can say we are not sure that crew understand and apply the rules which owners and managers want their ships to apply with. It is commonly known that purely written instructions and rules that are difficult to apply to real situations are not complied.
Also, there are more important questions to answer: Is there a commitment from top management in order all these processes and procedures to be applied onboard? What is the main barrier about this? In my personal view, the barriers are the manuals and the instructions. Today the manuals are very huge and bulky and cannot be totally understood from the majority of people. The problem is that the manuals often change and crew onboard which comes from different nationality may have a difficulty to understand the language that the manuals are written. A solution to that problem is a systematic seafarers engagement (but a real engagement) in the creation of procedures, functions and destructions. Although, this is a hard work and it is very difficult to apply, this is the solution.
If we really want to have well-trained personnel, able to apply the procedures that we want to apply onboard, at first we need to select properly the training centers. Therefore we need to establish selection criteria for the training centers, to create and evaluate the subject and the. Also, we have to measure and evaluate the capacity of the trainee. We have to measure and evaluate the method that the training was conducted and finally to measure the effectiveness of the training onboard.
Of course there is great need to establish a mechanism to assess the competency which is a different thing from the training. The oil companies today follow the easy solution. They say that if we want to have competent persons then its better to have experienced personnel, therefore they have created the famous matrixes. But from our perspective we have to develop both the technical and not technical skills of our people and of course we have to develop questions in order to verify in a real way the competency of our people.
Regarding the safety culture onboard , I think the only solution in order to develop effective safety culture is to have commitment from the top, leading by example. The commitment from the top is a matter of full understanding of direct and indirect consequences of accidents in human, environmental and financial terms. Without this commitment from serious management, the efforts of everyone else in supporting the safety system will be wasted for sure. Also, we have to measure and benchmark our performance in the safety culture. We have to measure the personal accidents, the observations related with unsafe processes and practices to evaluate the rating of our company in the important factor of the safety culture. Bear in your mind that every 330 unsafe acts or non-conformities, 30 are likely to result in minor injury and one is statistically likely to be an LTI.
Furthermore, we have to start to participate in benchmarking with OCIMF, ITOSF, INTERTANKO with the aim to develop access and circulate good practices in a systematic way. Engage the seafarers on reporting and understanding the importance of good practices as a tool of the safety culture. Reward the good practices in order to create motivation (publicity material reward, chances for career development etc). Establish a very frequent and consistent time frame to benchmark not whenever happens but systematically every three months, every six months, every year. Modifying the human behavior, whenever it is necessary. Make them to believe in safety, think to safety and to be committed to safety. Make your people to think before they perform a task, to consider the impact of an action taken for themselves and for the others onboard. Work as a team, make them to identify the barriers to safety and remove them, make them to correct of poor or unsafe behavior or practices using a coach rather a blaming culture. Care about each other, this is the lesson we have to address to our people. Make them to report unsafe condition, unsafe act, near misses and of course accidents.
Now regarding the incidents which happen in the industry, unfortunately it seems that we dont learn from these incidents. Which are the barriers which make us not to learn from these incidents? Is the legal liabilities coming out from reporting, is the lack of a common understanding and reporting methodology, is the lack of development of a non-blame culture, is the commercial implication of pressure from our customers. What can the owners, the charters or Associations do differently to improve the gathering, understanding and sharing or learning? Firstly, to standardize the quality of incident reports. Secondly, to organize in a perfect manner the database for the industrys incidents which today is scattered everywhere.
How should learning from incidents be developed and shared? I believe by development of best practices as delivery method not only as a statement but as best practices, to circulate the lessons to learn in a frequent intervals (once per month for example), to develop campaigns to motivate people to work, to correlate the findings from the Audits with the causes of incidents, difficult task but necessary task, to develop a library of incidents referenced the relevant sector of ESGOTT talking about the tanker industry. Are there today systematic management causes that may be a common denominator across different types of incident and accidents? I believe yes and this management causes are the poor investigation reports, which are not looking for real causes, the poor assessment of the warning messages coming during the operation and of course the fact that the lessons to learn are not stated in the proper way. We have big statements about lessons to learn but not key notes. What can we do to promote this challenge? First to realize and make ourselves sure that everybody onboard understands the lessons to learn. We can do that by discussing with them onboard how they will apply with the best effective way the lessons to learn, ask for their opinions, take their feedback and of course take into account their evaluation of masters and chief on how much effective they are in sharing the lessons to learn with the others. The last challenge is the effective and optimized audits. Today we have internal audits, external audits and sire audits. Tanker industry has revealed that the vetting and sire audits have been successful with ships being inspected on average once every 5 months.
But are all these audits really effective? I think they are not so much effective, because they dont address the real problem which is the human element. How can we see in a better way how our people are competent and they can apply the procedure we want to apply? The answer is first to identify the actual shipboard operation where the procedures and routines are put into action and therefore we can observe if our people are competent or not. What we do in our company is that we make a risk assessment for the best place of making these audits. If you have a lot of accidents during the sailing, then do this audit during the sailing of the vessel but if you have during loading and discharging then make this audit during this period of time. Also it is important to decide how we will measure competency of our people and therefore we have to establish measurable audit criteria that are perceived as relevant for accessing performance and make the evidence clear. Avoid generic questions and unclear criteria with inconsistent practices.Furthermore, it is important to combine effectively all these audits. We have to combine the leading indicators of TMSA talking for the tanker industry with the lagging indicators during the onboard audits.
In conclusion, it is important for operators to set clear and realistic goals and more specifically:
Above article is an edited version of Mr. Vlachos presentation during the 2015 SAFETY4SEA Forum which successfullyconcluded on Wednesday 7thof October 2015in Eugenides Foundation Athens attracting1100 delegates from 30 countries representing a total of 480 organizations.
Click here to view his presentation video
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