The experience of Green-Jakobsen in measuring, building and driving safety performance stems from working for numerous shipping companies, which consider us partners in their efforts to develop strong safety cultures. We work on consultancy projects for tanker, offshore, and all kind of ship management companies from South America to Singapore and the Philippines. Those who hire Green-Jakobsen aim at building real safety habits, at improving performance overall, and aim above the line of compliance.

Talking about building safety cultures, there is a point where you need to really take the decision to start. When we ask companies ‘What do you think about your safety performance’, 80% of them say ‘we’re fine, safety culture is above average, KPIs are okay and everything looks good’. But this doesn’t reflect what really happens onboard and how people really think and act about safety. Within shipping companies there are might be indications, like skipping procedures, taking shortcuts; these are hidden and accepted acts that reflect a culture of negligence. These are some of the most common indications that the culture is not safety focused. Safety Performance is mostly measured in “Lost Time Incidents Frequency” (LTIF) by using statistics about the number of incidents per 1 million working hours. This measurement tells us a part of the truth about the actual safety performance. Note that a long period of no-accidents or incidents does not always equal to strong safety performance. I believe that the biggest safety hazard is feeling over-confident and feeling that you are doing fine. The price of security is insecurity—until you don’t need it any more. We do see vessels that show good performance statistics but they generally have a poor safety culture on board. In this case the potential for a serious accident is much higher than with other vessels that have a strong safety culture but have had a couple of minor incidents that ruined their performance statistics. The problem is that the reactive measurement of accident statistics has very little predictive value towards the future safety performance; it does not show particular areas of weakness and does not provide any information on the actual safety culture on board. Hence, there is a potential for a serious accident in the future.

In many companies the general perception of safety development is that this is the responsibility of a safety department or safety officer, not a responsibility shared by all. Every single person can contribute to the company’s safety performance. Consider how much damage can be done by a single safety unconscious employee or manager. Thus, building a strong safety culture is a matter of leading oneself and others towards the right direction. Are there challenges in this effort? The biggest challenge is mentioned in the heading (of this presentation); i.e. to start- and more specifically, where to start.

So while we all know that safety goals and safety measures are there, we all know what we are expected to do, it is the habits that create a culture of safety. When it comes to safety, no matter how much you improve systems, processes, and tools, there will still be a gap in reaching a target of zero accidents. This is because safety is essentially rooted in each person’s behaviours. Hence, to create a proactive, strong, and reliable safety culture, it is important to nurture and align good safety behaviours. Building a strong safety culture takes work and commitment. It requires a common language, that is, a common set of behaviours that will serve as guide in people’s daily work. To get started… one need to be determined in facing the truth and be honest. The way you think about safety affects the way you feel about safety procedures and hence, your behaviour.  So, taking the path requires that you stay focused, determined and persistent throughout the process- and it’s a continuous process. Safety cultures are decided by humans. Developing safety cultures and performance requires a human approach. This belief is fundamental for Green-Jakobsen. Safety culture is formed by the collective behaviour of individuals.

If we want to have an idea of the future safety performance we need to assess the safety culture and maturity of the company as a basis for introducing targeted development initiatives. It is based on a genuine wish and ambition of companies to ensure a strong and sustainable safety performance. To do so it is important to have a clear understanding how the safety practise actually is today.  So, measure where you stand: the work as intended, the work as done and the general perceptions. This will give you the ‘What’ and ‘Why’. What level of safety maturity exists, and why people behave the way they do. The safety maturity assessment looks at how safety is actually applied in the daily life in the company– opposite to traditional safety performance indicators that focus on the number of past incidents.  How safety is applied is about typical behaviour, either on board or in the office.  The safety maturity of a company describes both the company safety performance capabilities and how consolidated these capabilities are to ensure a consistent safety performance. A high safety maturity level will foster a strong safety culture that again will support the consistency and sustainability of the company safety performance.

A safety maturity assessment will help you identify the areas for development, set goals and break them down to specific tasks. It will help you design how to move forward and who will do what. So the step to turn inconsistency to consistency, and swift from being compliance-oriented and reactive to proactive starts from this ladder. Measure where you stand and draft your steps to the ladder. Remember that to reach organisational capacity, all should drive safety, starting from the top management to the AB. The change projects of safety culture require all companies’ stakeholders to be involved. Often we see that it’s only the HSQE department that is working on this. We really believe and we force companies to spread the message and give work to everyone, from top to bottom, all ranks, onboard, ashore.  Measuring the safety maturity provides a view on the leading indicators of the safety performance. Based on industry research and best practice combined with years of own experience working with assessment and development of safety cultures, Green-Jakobsen has defined key safety elements that are most important for creating a sustainable safety culture. And the most common challenges we see in numerous shipping companies are related to risk management, coherence of safety culture, vessel safety performance assessment, performance management and evaluation, HR process, behavioural-based safety, leadership training and learning ability.

Throughout the years we have identified safety elements, areas, that represent safety culture and when you analyze these, you can identify as a company your weak points. These weak points lead you to what we call development initiatives. So, they show you where you need to focus more and what to prioritize first. Based on the areas that we have identified; we start building business development initiatives. This is where you start. The first stage is Mobilisation, i.e. getting the organisation behind. Who’s going to drive it, to promote it, to get others involved. What happens if you assign the wrong people? Are they committed enough? We emphasize that every department should get involved, cause if it stays in the HSQE department then everybody thinks it’s not their business. So get the right people behind.

Creation is the stage when we create the deliverables, processes, like a course, the campaign, the HR processes –depending on the identified areas for development. It’s where we define what has to be changed, and design all the content and materials. It’s the easiest part because people think that then it’s done. But that’s a naive thought. It’s like downloading a workout application on your mobile and buying an activity tracker that counts your steps, etc. This does not make you an athlete. You may look athletic, but you should be running, right?

During the Application stage, workshops, training, campaigns and other initiatives can take place. This is when we do a course, run campaign, implement change in the appraisal process. It is the first step of building understanding and knowledge about it. After the company leaves the mobilization stage, people take the materials and try to live it. Then they realise how it actually works. The true competence and cultural change comes to the Realisation stage, when companies need to keep an eye to see if they are mainly in the right direction. Sustainability comes when we regularly stop, reflect, re-evaluate and adjust.

There’s an expression stating ‘fake it till you make it’. This sounds as if things will happen if you just visualize and dream. However if you fake it, it won’t make you stronger. If you keep faking it, you are faking yourself. What you do defines you. Thoughts affect our feelings and feelings affect our actions. And this goes back to our mind. What you do, how safely you behave affects your mind- and your mind cannot be fooled. So, instead of ‘fake it’, start by ‘face it’. Be honest, determined, focused and persistent till you really make it.

Above text is an edited version of Dr. Maria’s Progoulaki presentation during the 2019 SAFETY4SEA Athens Forum.

View her 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.


Dr. Maria Progoulaki, Regional Representative and Senior Consultant, Green-Jakobsen A/S

Dr. Maria Progoulaki is the regional representative of Green-Jakobsen in Greece and Cyprus, and Senior Consultant since 2017. Maria is a Maritime Economist; she holds a PhD on the Management of multicultural human resources in shipping. She has 12 years of experience in consultancy, teaching and international research in Maritime Human Resource Management, cross-cultural management and the Maritime Labour Convention (MLC2006). Her professional competence covers marine HR and safety projects. As part of GJ international team, Maria develops tailor-made HR processes, leadership training concepts and safety strategies for shipping companies, with a focus on integrated maritime HR processes. Maria also offers professional courses on soft skills and safety leadership to shipping companies’ office and sea personnel.