Capt. Yiannis Kapageridis, QA Superintendent, addresses the challenge of engaging and re-engaging seafarers. Namely, engagement can keep a seafarer motivated on the task in hand while also taking good care of themselves as well as those around them and performing their responsibilities efficiently.
What is the essence of engagement? How can we achieve engagement in terms of human performance in the long-term? Why we keep facing behaviors of reluctance that leads to shortcoming on basic safety rules?
Apparently, engagement is the state of mind that keeps a person motivated on the task in hand taking good care of himself and his peers and moreover efficiently perform his/her responsibilities. The above can be supplemented by the fact that engagement has gained momentum over the years by being one of the most valuable factors that need to be taking under serious consideration by maritime community.
A significant number of incident investigations have concluded that basic and immediate cause is attributed to failure to follow procedures/instruction. What is the reason that, even if all procedures are in place, risks have been efficiently assessed and equipment utilized is of the latest technology, still we fail to follow them? What is the element that is missing that will improve the safety aspect on the daily shipboard activities?
Major oil companies have realized that human behavior is one of the elements that need to be thoroughly attended since it is the basis for a success-or-fail system. More and more attention is paid to the human element since it is a parameter that plays a key role in the day to day ship operation. It is worthwhile to note that basic psychology and methods of behavior analysis have been introduced in order to cope with the human performance.
Taking the above as a preamble and understanding that re-engaging is of highly importance, let us go through a few thoughts on the reasons of failing to follow procedures and what we can do to ascertain it.
Company’s Policy vs Company’s Culture
Company’s policy is the statement originated from the top management articulating the mission of the company that encompasses the core values and highlights the objectives and long term goals. Shipping company will require these policies to be displayed in a conspicuous place on board fleet vessels. Nonetheless it is the opinion of the author that these policies that should be followed by every employee, have been reviewed and read by less than expected if ever at all.
From the other hand, company’s culture is how things usually handled. What traits and behaviors are awarded and what actions or omissions are being reprimanded? Furthermore, what disciplinary measures are imposed and under what circumstances? Company’s culture if not aligned with the company’s policy can pose a significant risk parameter in concern with the demotivation and compromising of seafarer’s engagement. The above constitutes an issue which needs our attention and prompt actions in order to address it and eliminate its effect which significantly poses safety onboard vessels at risk and jeopardizes performance.
We need to understand and take bold steps in terms of consistency on what we say that we do and what we finally endorse doing. Human values and team building activities should be promoted and positively encouraged. The mindset of shore-based personnel both in lower and senior managerial position should be concentrated on actions to harmonize the culture of the company with the policy that proclaims it praise and entails.
Compliance vs Commitment
These two words are commonly and frequently used and cited on several publications and SMS’s but what is the difference between them? Numerous resolutions, codes and regulations dictates compliance by all parties concerned.
Compliance on a procedure, policy, safety system, is to accept by obeying a rule, a request, an order even if you have your reservations and different point of view on something that has been originated from an external source (i.e. IMO, Flag state, shipping company). It goes without saying that most safety systems are requesting compliance from their employees.
On the other hand, the fundamental characteristic of commitment that differentiates it from compliance is that commitment has its origins from within a person. It is linked to a more holistic shape and approach encompassing ownership and stronger magnitude in terms of following a procedure, or safety system. In order to achieve commitment, we need to strive for achieving ownership.
It is in the area of compliance that in most cases issues of inconsistencies have been identified between what we say we do, compared to what we actually do. The struggle to evolve from mere compliance to commitment is a challenge that we need to address over and again. It is the opinion of the author that the first and foremost element to the objective of re engaging seafarers is clearly commitment from the top. Being at the preamble of ISM Code, the commitment is surely stronger and significantly above mere compliance. Embracing a policy, a Safety system and making it your own “property” can be proved of high value in terms of promoting safety and reducing reluctance and failures on following procedures.
How we achieve re engagement
Nowadays, on this highly paced working environment, more than ever, the main thing that we need to address is re engaging seafarer. How we can safeguard ourselves from the dangers of reluctance and demotivational standpoints that jeopardizes safety at sea. The answer can be sought once we focus on aspects that drives and further motivating shipboard personnel, officers and ratings alike.
It is not an easy thing and surely it cannot be achieved in small portion of time. In order to harvest the benefits from engagement and commitment shipping company management and office personnel first need to reflect and further self-assess their point of view and ask themselves:
- Do we follow what we have written down on our Safety management systems?
- Is it prudent to request strict implementation of requirements from others and exclude ourselves by making shortcuts on every corner?
- Do we award positive efforts of crewmembers? And is this translated in anything more than a thank you note?
- Do we promote cultural diversity by giving voice to everyone who has something to say?
- Do we bend our own rules and procedures?
- Do we reprimand unfavorable actions or omissions as per our procedures or there are being passing unchecked?
- Do we respect the need of personnel to fulfill their professional goals and objectives?
- Do we listen to their opinions and considerations by acting timely and effectively?
These are questions which will signal a trend on the direction that we are heading in terms of empowering the harmonization of policy with culture and surely these question bullet points are not exhaustive. It must be grasped by all stakeholders that the longevity of each shipping company safety system is depending on the human element and the level of engagement of the shipboard personnel is a major performance indicator. All our efforts and struggles should have as a focal point the human element engagement. We as shore-based personnel should be supportive to their endeavors and offer guidance on safety procedures that we ourselves firstly embrace and genuinely endorse. We need to inspire crewmembers through coaching and professional mentoring to commit in the working procedures and of course to listen to their concerns and doubts.
Concluding, it must be underlined that shipboard working environment constitutes a demanding and dynamic workplace where in a confined space a group of people with different backgrounds and with cultural diversity as the most powerful factor, have amongst other, the major task to safely navigate the ship from point A to point B and execute ship’s contractual obligations in a manner accepted by shipping industry rules and regulations. Adverse weather conditions, assorted hardship, personal difficulties and demanding responsibilities in the context of time constraints pose a challenge to the execution of that task. Shore-based personnel should provide not superficial support but rather support in substance having in mind all the above. In the final analysis, it is the human element that can elevate a shipping company status from merely basic to a higher level of performance.
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.