There are numerous of questions arising concerning the term “quality”. Most of these questions are focusing on what quality is in practice and who actually defines the required items that make an organization quality compliant. Generally, quality refers to reliability, efficiency and good performance and seeks to reach all stakeholders’ satisfaction, as this is the major factor that defines the requirements on which the organization will finally focus on.
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As for the shipping organizations, quality is about all stakeholders’ satisfaction, but there is also another factor that it is very important to deal with: safety. In this case, quality sometimes conflicts with the safety requirements. A common example of this conflict is the customers’ demand of high speeds for sooner cargo delivery. However, from the scope of safety the requirement of higher speeds can be risky as sometimes safety practices are time-consuming. From that aspect, in order to balance between the two poles -safety vs quality- organizations should make clear the level of quality they offer, and where quality is limited due to safety requirements. In addition, quality is also costly and for some companies the adoption of a quality management may not be an easy job. Thus, shipping organizations are required to establish the quality level that can afford and is capable to maintain.
By the time a shipping company establish the level of quality it offers, will automatically establish the market in which it shall compete, until is ready to level up.
Levels of quality management escalate as follows:
Level #1– Inspection
At this level inspections are taking place in order to ensure compliance to requirements. This level of quality management includes audits that aim to detect errors and faults in the management system. Despite the efforts been made to correct errors, there is no further investigation searching the root cause of these errors. This practice results in a continuous reappearance of the same errors and not any improvement is observed in company’s performance.
Level #2 – Quality Control
At this level the correction of errors is followed by an additional investigation to find out the root causes of occurred incidents. This tactic prevents reoccurrence of the same errors but still this mechanism is activated only after system failures, as there are not any preventive actions or risk assessments to protect the system from unfavorable incidents.
Level #3 – Quality Assurance
A company is at the quality level three or the “quality assurance level” when quality management has been adopted and demonstrated in written standards. Requirements are integrated in company’s SMS and its compatibility is displayed in documents.
Quality standards adopted by companies are established by the IMO, ISO (ISO 9000 for management quality) or can be found in the ISM Code requirements. Actions of the previous two levels are still occurred but there are also conducted internal audits by the company and by third parties, in order to ensure compliance with requirements. The rate of occurred errors can be reduced as these written procedures try to indicate the acceptable behaviors and actions to be followed by the staff.
Level Four – Total Quality
Total Quality Management (TQM) is standing on the other side of the previous levels as auditing is not the main tool. At this level, company’s efforts to meet quality requirements are mainly about learning how to improve performance and provide high quality services not only by searching for errors to be corrected but especially by creating opportunities for improvement.
Shipping Companies’ QMS
It is interesting to be noted, how quality management is approached by shipping companies. Firstly the ISM code itself has incorporated many of “quality” issues mostly concerning improvement and conformity. The adoption of a Quality Management System should be a strategic decision of any Company. This system is an integrated SMS and Quality system mixing both requirements (ISM & Quality). The Quality Management System helps the Company to improve its performance in general and to form an integral component of sustainable development initiatives. The design and implementation of a Company’s quality management system is influenced by the context of the Company and the changes in that context. It aims to:
- Understand customers’ requirements and ensure that is capable to meet these requirements.
- Maintain accordingly in order employees to receive the appropriate training regarding quality requirements.
- Keep records that the system complies with the quality requirements.
- Measure performance, analyze results and proceed the proper changes (if needed).
- Continually improve the performance and efficiency of Quality Management System.
Despite the challenges, implementing a quality management system can benefit any organization and help its overall performance. What is more, meeting the quality requirements can improve the quality level of the industry as a whole providing better services, satisfying the requirements of all stakeholders and respecting other important factors such as environment, health, safety and social responsibility.