100 years of safety – what has really changed?

Safety is a huge subject. It has been in the agenda of the shipping industry for more than a hundred years, most of the times however, only after a serious incident.

Although shipping is a highly regulated industry, up until today it merely reacts to incidents. Irrespective of a hundreds and thousands of printed papers on safety procedures and policies, incidents continue to happen and lives are lost.

However, 5-6 years ago, a breakthrough initiative, supported by a major industry player, Shell, emerged suggesting a new approach. An approach which, at that time, was criticized as being unrealistic.

Operators, especially those in the tanker business, are now convinced that the only way to go forward towards the new safety, is to embrace a proactive model based on the analysis of the human performance. Safety behaviours, identification of weak signals, visible leadership and organizational interactions, are the focal points of the model.

The New Safety – A SWOT Analysis

But how can we progress towards the New Safety and “zero incidents”? They say that when there’s will, there’s a way. This way can only be achieved through a structured, strategic plan, where company objectives are identified, set, timed, monitored, measured and periodically re-evaluated. This plan should address the organizational safety performance and culture, both on ship and at shore level.

It is very important to analyze and evaluate the shore dynamics as they could either become the contributing factor in the success of the plan or negatively impair its effectiveness. Company values and infrastructures, leadership models, training strategies and personal development are some of the areas that need to be rethought of and reformed to incorporate the human element.

Undoubtedly, this suggests that the entire organization will have to go through a major change. How do we then go about this change? How do we manage it?

What we present here is a practical method, based on a SWOT analysis. At first, organizational strengths and weaknesses are identified, threats are analyzed and monitored with the scope to eventually turn them into strengths and why not, opportunities for the organization.

Opportunities are highlighted and communicated to all involved. All involved must be aware of the change; we need to win their hearts and minds in order to embrace this change and become champions of the project.

I will now briefly outline and share with you some of the key steps of this method.

The level of the safety culture on all vessels, regardless of the type, and at shore level is to be measured and quantified. What you can not count, you can not manage. Additionally, qualitative measures such as commitment, loyalty, risk attitudes and communication skills are to be evaluated. Then company tailor-made tactics are to be drawn up and deployed.

In our case, the tactics included: 5day inspirational and awareness workshops for Greek officers, run in-house and seminars for our Filipino crew. Concurrently, we had a campaign launched on the entire fleet with various promotional material, posters, jockey hats for the facilitators of the project; a pocket guide, exclusively developed for our company with simplified material on “How to be Resilient”, as well as tips on stress management and mental health issues, was handed over to each seafarer prior to his/her embarkation.

Continuous coaching of the facilitators during forums and one-to-one briefing sessions. Halfway of the process, we monitored the effectiveness by running an online survey on the entire fleet.

Three years after, we are now on the re-measurement phase in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the entire project, as well as current safety levels and determine any necessary follow up actions.

A tool for success or another tick box?

Could though this unique challenge for the shipping industry end up being another paperwork exercise for the managers?

“Safety” definitely pays out at the end but until then Owners very rightly feel as if they are throwing their good money into a bottomless rusty bucket. However, if building a Safety Culture is perceived as a long term investment by a committed organization, and I stress the word commitment, there will be exceptional competitive advantages in the long run, highly rated performance for both ship and shore personnel and conclusively business continuity.

And maybe then, we will all proudly declare shipping as a zero incident industry…

Because our major asset is and must always be Our People!

Above text is an edited version of Mrs. Maria’s Christopoulou presentation during the 2019 HAMF Conference.

You may view her presentation here:

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.

About Maria Christopoulou

Maria Christopoulou is a Law graduate of the National & Kapodistriakon University of Athens, Bachelor Degree in European Affairs & International Studies and with a minor in Journalism. She has been active in the shipping industry for over 15 years, working in key role positions related to Safety and Quality.

She has been working for Neda Maritime since 2004 first as Safety & Quality Coordinator, later as Deputy Safety & Quality Manager and since 2014 as Quality & Training Manager. Since 2014 she is also the company MLC representative.

As the Quality & Training Manager she introduced the digitalization of the company’s training systems and processes by applying innovative, customized solutions, and achieved certification of Neda Maritime as an “Approved Training Provider” by Lloyd’s Register.

She is an ISM/ISO certified Auditor and company’s ISO 9001 representative, and was elected and served as Chairperson of Helmepa’s Training Committee from April 2011 till September 2017.

Since March 2016, she is coordinating Neda’s campaign on “Resilience”, a project that has received the 2016 Safety4Sea Excellence Award.

Since 28th November 2018, member of Intertanko Human Element Committee.