What causes accidents? According to many investigation report findings, most will agree that the majority occur due to human error and a failure to follow procedures. Ironically, if it is a human error case, then often there is another procedure put in place to stop the human error from happening resulting in yet another procedure not to be followed…these actions continue causing a vicious circle of human error and failure to follow procedures.

We believe that a strong organizational safety culture, usable sensible systems coupled with the right crew with the right safety behavior are the only way to fix such problems.

The right crew involves attracting, recruiting and retaining the right people by offering an attractive and safe place of work and establishing strong policies for recruitment. Having a high retention rate is important to breed consistency within the organization.

At the beginning of the ISM Code we saw an increase in safety performance; however, in most cases these results have plateaued as many of us have found ourselves inside the vicious cycle of too many complex procedures which do not focus on human behaviors.  In my opinion as an ex-seafarer, the SMS is becoming more of a legal document to cover companies rather than what it was intended for in the first place, a guide for seafarers to behave and act safely showing them the correct way to conduct tasks.

At the moment, we in North believe that systems within organizations seem proceduraly heavy putting humans in second place. The key question therefore is how could we take a more person centric approach to safety within a company and regain an equal balance between humans and systems?

As explained, recruiting the right crew is important. Recruiting the correct people into an organization means that they have sensible recruitment policies to attract and retain crews and their interview and reference checking policy ensures that they are getting the best people through the door. Companies then spend time developing extensive training matrixes and investing on training to make their crew’s better, making sure that these people have all the right qualifications to go onboard their ships and perform to the highest level. When this is done the company has essentially developed a high-performance crew similar to a fleet of high-performance super cars. However, without sensible usable systems and a believable safety culture to essentially make the road for these cars, these new super car crews will be performing on a dirt track ….. in other words, no matter how good the car is, without the right track they won’t perform properly. If the companies have the correct mixture of sensible systems and safety culture to make a smooth tarmac road however, their new fleet of super cars will perform to their maximum potential!

Therefore, we have upgraded from the systems only based Safety Management 1.0 to Safety Management 2.0 the person centric approach to safety. In safety management 1.0 companies are usually heavily biased towards procedures namely due to the perceived requirements of the ISM Code. We are not suggesting not to follow the Code, but to upgrade to safety management 2.0 we need to make it a little more person centric. Systems are needed, but let’s make them sensible, let’s make them usable for the people on the front line, avoiding human error accidents caused by not following procedures which were not understood or in some cases even found As such, to help our Members and the industry as a whole North’s loss prevention department is in partnership with expert consultants to assist companies in building the required safety behaviors and simplifying their SMS procedures without losing any vital content. We are putting on workshops alongside Green Jakobsen and Lovoy AS. These allow delegates to take part in practical tasks to increase their understanding of these two areas allowing them to develop the right system for their company and build the road for their super car crews.

Due to feedback from seafarers that have taken part in the Lovoy simplifying SMS program, we can report SMS word counts have been reduced by up to 65%, importantly with an improved usability of 70%; that’s directly from those people using it. For those people who say “vetting won’t allow us to do this”; it has been proven to proven to satisfy vetting requirements, since some of the companies that have used this method are large tanker operators that work with oil majors. These operators have reported this approach has been extremely successful because they are not losing content but now everybody knows what it means, and they are still following the ISM code requirements.

We have now ensured that we have sensible systems and the right people, safety behavior is the other ingredient. Safety behavior / safety culture is a word we in the industry use a lot; saying it is quite simple but carrying it out is a much more difficult task. It must be a top to bottom belief within the organization, we can’t any longer just tell the seafarers to follow procedures and then that it was their fault if there is an incident. In addition, we must promote crews challenging unsafe behaviors which is something we don’t see very often from those at the bottom of the organization ladder. A top to bottom belief requires patience and importantly persistence as it takes time for the whole mindset to change. This is not a procedure that we put in a document for everybody to read and understand but a different way of doing things. This belief changes the way people think! In order for this to succeed we need to encourage open communications and get everybody involved - asking for a near miss report twice a month which the captain fills in and nobody else sees it is potentially not the best way to promote open safety communication. I would much rather get a safety suggestion from a steward than the captain as this shows that a top to bottom belief in creating a safe working environment exists.

Existing KPIs that operators monitor, such as LTIFs, to measure safety performance serve their purposes commercially, but they are not for creating safety culture. These do not encourage open and honest safety feedback from the crew on their perception of the company’s safety performance. Perceived safety culture is something we believe in, hence why we developed the SCORA, Safety Culture Organization Assessment, tool. The tool allows people from within an organization, that have direct contact with the safety procedures onboard, to report anonymously back on how they feel on certain safety cultivators within the company thus measuring its organizational safety capacity. This cannot be developed or fixed overnight and SCORA is not a magic bullet, as I said before, changing safety culture is a long-term project. SCORA and the Safety Delta product from Green Jakobsen will allow operators to focus on areas where they are perceived to be weak by those within their organization and give a starting point and a foundation towards a new approach to safety culture, helping them upgrade to Safety Management 2.0.


Above text is an edited version of Mr. John Southam’s presentation during the 2019 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum

View his video presentation herebelow:

The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.

John Southam, Loss Prevention Executive, The North of England P&I Club

John is a Master Mariner and joined from a survey and marine consultancy company. Previous to this, John was engaged in shipyard operations conducting new build DP vessel projects in Asia as an owners project representative. He also worked at sea for 16 years, initially on Container Vessels with P&O Nedlloyd, and then on board offshore vessels including a range of DP vessels, AHTS, PSVs, drilling units, and offshore wind farm construction lift boats.