My presentation will focus on ‘Shaping a Safety Culture’. The key word here is ‘shaping’ because it shows that it requires time and cautiousness; it is an ongoing procedure and continuing efforts to improve and maintain safety performance are needed. We have to do our best; however, results are not always what we expect.

For the beginning, it is useful to define what ‘safety culture’ is. According to the UK P&I Club, ‘’ A Safety Culture, is a special case out of the more general corporate culture. It is one in which, Safety has a special place in the hearts and minds of all those who work for the Organisation. It is characterized by, not only having safety as one of its core values, but also by believing that “safety pays”. A motto being used which demonstrates the actual meaning of ‘safety pays’ says “if you think that safety is expensive, then try having an accident”.

The Code of Safe Working Practices for Merchant Seafarers (2015 edition) is addressed to everyone on a ship and to those ashore responsible for safety. The recommendations can be effective only if they are understood by all and if everyone cooperates in their implementation. Those not actually engaged in a job in hand, should be aware of what is being done, so that they may avoid putting themselves at risk or causing risk to others.

Not only crews on board are changing, but also procedures are continually being amended to either cover changed working conditions, be in line with new legislation and new equipment or prohibit actions that have been implicated in recent and usually serious accident/incident. In addition, procedures may be updated following PSC deficiencies or vetting observations. In any case, people have to learn about these changes and adapt.

Key points when developing a Safety Culture

  • The will to implement, is more important than the ability to do so
  • The ability to implement varies, between crews of different nationalities
  • When a new concept is introduced, as many people want it to fail, as want it to succeed
  • Knowing what to do when, is more effective than doing everything at once
  • It is harder to pass-through theories of accident prevention, than theories of accident causation

During incident investigations, errors and violations are being highlighted for feedback. The violation itself, may not be damaging but the act of violating, takes the violator into regions in which, subsequent errors are much more likely to have bad outcomes. There is difference between these two definitions: each has different mental origins; occurs at different levels of the organization and; requires different counter-measures. However, all employees onboard and ashore have a part to play in minimizing their occurrence.

For changing people’s behavior, we need to take into consideration that behavior can be influenced by three factors: personality, skills, which include also working procedures and attitudes. Speaking about attitude; it is the ‘way we think about somebody of something. Our attitude reflects to our behavior. Therefore, it is not possible to change the personality, but it is possible to provide knowledge and experience and this may change attitudes.

One of the most known examples of exorbitant attitude is this of Capt. by E. J. Smith who back in 1907 he had stated that he had never been in an accident worth speaking of during his forty-year career at sea. Unluckily, on April 14th 1912, the RMS “Titanic” sank with a loss of 1500 lives one of which was the Captain Smith. Also, another example is that of a master involved in a recent infamous maritime disaster who was the first to abandon the ship, where actually, in these situations a master should be the last person to leave.

All companies apply more or less the same best practices to training, guidance/motivation and performance monitoring:


  • through VOD & CBT programs
  • through Specific Videos on the particular type of on-board equipment (such as Life Boats, davits and on-load release systems, Breathing Apparatus, etc)
  • through REFLECTIVE TRAINING method, with the use of Learning Engagement Tools


  • through Risk Assessment application, with the assistance of “TAKE 5” tool
  • through a MATRIX for the use of PPE into the various working practices
  • through SAFETY POSTERS placed into accommodation spaces
  • through SAFETY, ENVIRONMENTAL, OH&S Bulletins
  • through CAMPAIGNS on HSQE issues


  • Accidents/Incidents reporting & investigation
  • Near Miss reporting and improvement recommendations
  • Statistical Record keeping and Benchmarking

Onboard vessels it applies that safety is 25% Common Sense, 75% Compliance and the rest is Good Luck! It is generally true that 100% of safety is hard to find due to ‘human element’ factor. As errors belong to Humans and as sailing is a human activity, it is important to be “safety conscious” and promote a safety culture. Therefore, my advice would be to always know when and why you are compromising with your job, and always know what you are doing along with the possible consequences.

Above text is an edited article of Apostolos Skempes presentation during the 2016 SAFETY4SEA Conference & Awards

You may view his video presentation by clicking 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 Capt. Apostolos Skempes

Training Manager, Arcadia Shipmanagement Co Ltd 

skempesCapt. Apostolos Skempes is a graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos, as a deck officer  fully certified up to the rank of Master Mariner with more than 15 years seagoing service, including 4 years  as Master on Tankers. He has served as Professor of Maritime Studies at the Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos – Deck Officers’ Department, for 12 years and he is holding a Master of Business Administration in Shipping from Piraeus University. He is a qualified Auditor of Management Systems (ISM/ISPS/ISO 9001 & 14001 ) and a certified Trainer on Bridge Simulators and ECDIS by TRANSAS. He is the Training Manager for Arcadia Shipmanagement since November 2012.