The headline for the industry today is how we can measure real safety performance. It is important to shed our focus on measuring and assessing performance in order to develop and adjust to challenges successfully. It is all about getting a clearer picture of how we are actually doing things.

Our background and knowledge

In Green Jakobsen, we are working with many shipping companies, helping them to assess their safety maturity. The assessments include on-line surveys and interviews with seafarers and office staff. Over the last four years, we have spoken with nearly 1,800 seafarers and a large number of office staff. Each interview lasts between one to one and a half hour, so what we are talking about is more than 2,000 hours of interviewing with people within this business.  Following thorough discussions, we identified trends and emerging challenges to deal with. One of the things we definitely pointed out was that there is a very mixed perception of how we really measure our safety performance.

Also, we have participated in numerous performance projects, related to people performance, own and others’ research, and numerous learning and development projects focusing on when people actually learn and change and on the motives behind performance.

 “It is the crew’s safety lifestyle that we need to look at and they need to be the ones to assess actual performance”

TMSA 3 and safety performance

According to TMSA 3, “Once a self-assessment has been completed, the company will have a clear, objective picture of their safety performance”. In my belief, this quote is really an expression of how the industry is often thinking about safety performance, but basically it cannot be ‘objective’, because safety performance happens on board. Although there is for sure ‘safety performance’ in the office, at the end of the day, what happens on board actually matters.

Therefore, if we claim that we can have an objective picture of safety performance, I think we are off track and there are things we need to do. Another thing to support this is that when we talk with seafarers or office staff, we get millions of different answers to very specific questions, resulting in many different perceptions of what a good safety performance is. For instance, if we ask, “Do you do toolbox talk on board?” most people say yes. Then we ask “When did you consider it a good toolbox talk?” and we get as many answers as the number of people we ask.

Another thing, when we kick off the interview, we ask two opening questions about safety performance. The first is “How is safety performance in your company?” Among the last 30 people I spoke with, 80% answered that “crew use PPE, and LTIF is ok”. In other words, the perception is that we are above average because of these two parameters. However, they are hardly explaining about what is going on on board the vessel, so we need to go deeper and that is what we are trying to do.

Regarding objectivity, we have to remember that there is always a context, an environment. When we are talking about safety performance, we have procedures and checklists for every operation on board. But, when we do it, what is the context? Are we tired? Is it raining? Am I using spectacles making it hard to see anything? How am I trained? Am I ready for this? There is always a context. By the end of the day, who can assess how well that is done? - That should be the crew!

Changing the focus

I think one of the problems is that we try to assess from the outside. Superintendent inspections, internal audits, PSCs, vetting, etc. all serve a purpose, but in these cases, the feedback comes from outside. But if we look specifically at what is going on on board a vessel, in this second when they are carrying out operations, only few people are and should be capable of assessing this - and that is the people doing the job. A further perspective to this is that even among these people, the world appears in different ways to each of them and we cannot control that from the distance. We might come up with advice, but when all is said and done, it is the people doing the job who should be most capable of assessing the actual performance.

All in all, it is the process which counts. Even if we have not been hurt, it matters how we actually have done the job, because, to a very high degree, we just walk away without any further action every single time we have not experienced anything wrong. The question is, are we then remembering to look at the process or we are just looking at the result? Our experience from the interviews is that when we ask people: “So, when do you take initiatives when it comes to safety?” The answer usually is “When something goes wrong or if the client requires it”.

Finally, when we are talking about safety performance, we need to distinguish between what I call frequency and quality. While doing the interviews, we have to look at how often people do it – because in this way we have some kind of verification if it is in their mind – but also, we need to discuss how it is carried out. Far too often, we look at numbers, traditional KPIs, but we forget to look at the quality of how it is actually performed. And this is why you get so many different answers when you ask “What is a good toolbox talk?”

“We need to get seafarers to reflect, collaborate and discuss things on board to a much higher degree”

Safety Condition Indicators – the safety lifestyle

So far, we have illustrated what we might not do right. What is then a way of going about it and what could be the potential way ahead?

Let’s say for instance, you are sitting at home together with your wife and she is looking at you and saying: “I think you should go to the doctor” and you answer: “Why should I go to the doctor? I am not sick” but your wife says: “Listen, I think you have been looking very tired recently and I think you should go and have a check-up and see how well you are doing”. So, for the sake of peace and quiet, you go to the doctor, who asks you: ”Why are you here?” and you say: ”I don’t know, my wife sent me”. But the doctor is a wise person, so he/she might ask the following questions: “Are you a smoker?”, ”How much do you sleep?”, “What about your diet?”, “Do you exercise?” The doctor may continue these questions, because what the doctors are interested in is the lifestyle you are living. But in this case the doctor cannot give you a diagnosis saying “I reckon, within the next five years, there is a 20% likelihood of you developing diabetes”. What I mean to say is that somebody can say “According to my knowledge…”, “According to my understanding…”, “According to what I get from statistics… I can say that if you keep on living it like that, you are going to run into problems”.

If we remember this story and take it into a safety context, my claim is, if we are to start discussing our safety performance, that we need to discuss the safety lifestyles we are living, the way we do things, the process we are carrying out, before anything goes wrong. The industry urges to learn lessons from past incidents to which I agree; I would never say we should not learn from incidents. However, I would so much prefer to learn before an incident occurs and have a proper dialogue about that and look at the safety conditions or the safety lifestyles that we are presently showing. It needs to go deeper; we need to look at ourselves and we need to stop believing that we can assess performance from outside.

By the end of the day, it is the crew’s safety lifestyle that we need to look at and they need to be the ones to assess it, because otherwise we are going to be running around from now on, trying to come up with ideas from the outside and trying to control the crew on board. It is not going to happen. We need to get them to reflect and to collaborate. In addition, I know that there is a direct link between psychological empowerment and the actual performance on board vessels. There is so much more capacity in seafarers and still we keep on talking about the seafarers’ limitations and problems. So, why don’t we focus on what they have rather than they do not have?

safety culture

Image Credit: SAFETY4SEA

Safety Cultivators

Just to be more specific, what safety lifestyles can you start looking at? In principle, the following lifestyles shown on board, also called “cultivators”, need to be evaluated and assessed.

  • Safety Leadership which creates an open and trusting atmosphere based on the leaders’ ability to give clear direction and understand what is expected from the crew.
  • Risk Management: how good are we in the preparation phase when it comes to risk management? How well are we doing in the execution phase? One thing we see when reading incident reports is “Loss of situational awareness”. But has anyone ever explained to a seafarer what is “Loss of situational awareness” and how does he avoid losing it?
  • Health and well-being, also known as ‘mental health’.
  • Learning and Development: Although everyone is talking about training, I prefer to call it ‘Learning and Development’, because every day, if you have a proper leader who gives you advice, you have Learning and Development options on board vessels. It is just the question of spotting and using these opportunities and having people who are capable and willing to do this.
  • Safety reporting and
  • Safety behaviours: In Green-Jakobsen (we are a consultancy company) we have defined and described some behaviours that we want people to show in relation to safety.

In conclusion, my point is that we have to stop focusing on trying to assess from the outside only. I am not saying we should stop doing it, as it serves a very strong purpose. But we need to look for unlocked potential and get people psychologically empowered. We need to get seafarers to reflect, collaborate and discuss things on board to a much higher degree. What we can do as externals, is we can help them address what we think are important safety lifestyles.


The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion  purposes only.

View Erik Green’s presentation on safety performance during the last  SAFETY4SEA Conference herebelow


Erik Green is one of the founders of Green-Jakobsen in 2001. He graduated as a Naval Architect in 1990 and has a master’s degree in organisational learning and development. Within the maritime segment Erik’s expertise mostly relates to the development of corporate and individual safety culture (competencies), marine HR and leadership development. As a strategic business consultant with more than 20 years of experience Erik is specialised in helping companies develop both at a strategic, tactical and operational level. His professional competence covers marine HR and safety projects involving both employees and employers and he is an experienced project manager, subject matter expert, strategic executive coach and as a strategic business consultant. Furthermore, Erik is continuously engaged in the development of Green-Jakobsen’s own leadership training concept, and safety maturity development concept and methods.