Without a doubt, “safety” is a unique word that we use many times in our everyday lives, with a variety of different interpretations.

Maybe the most common expression is “be safe” when worried for someone or wishing them well. Furthermore, when we want to stress an important message, value, expectation and cultural belief to others we often use the popular phrase “safety first”.

However are we, as a shipping community, safety believers?

As human beings we become more safety conscious after a traumatic experience that occurred to us or our loved ones.


Considering the great safety improvements that our industry has made during the last 20 years, some may say that we still have more to do, while others say that, although continuous improvement is a must, we have set sufficient standards and adequately regulate the industry, thus we should focus on what we must do to implement the existing regulations.

From a more practical view, an attempt is hereby made to interpret the onboard safety in a more literal way.

Before doing so we should ponder how our actions affect safety, what are the existing safety aspects, where safety starts, what we have to do to achieve and preserve safety and finally question ourselves “Are we believers of safety “.

Without doubt, safety starts from us and ends back with us, consequently we become recipients of our own actions whether these are effective or ineffective.

Safety requires perpetual effort and a deep belief from all of us. Safety is nothing more than the management of risk. The risk that we as human beings are able to conceive, which most of the times springs from our need to protect and prevent a potentially undesired event.

A recent example, I remember when my son was making his first steps, my worry and care for him to remain safe gave me a foresight to identify the potential dangers hidden within my own home and automatically perform a risk assessment, the outcome of which was to cover every edgy corner in my house with protective foam, placing protective gates on the staircase and cover the slippery marble staircase with super comfort mat and even install additional rails to the wall. Despite of all these measures, unfortunately, yes there was an awful day where he slipped and fell because he was running and ignoring my warnings.

Luckily the magic carpet saved him, and he only suffered a few bruises.

Where does this real-life example lead us?

Risk assessment is an endless process since there is always a residual risk, which most often is dependent on human behavior.

My son knew that he might fall, he ignored the warnings and, despite the assurances “yes dad” he unconsciously ignored a danger he knew was present.

Certainly, factors such as the age and childish innocence played a role in ignoring the warnings, but what is our excuse in the shipping industry for not following the basic safety standards to the letter?

It is broadly accepted that there are mainly two safety aspects, Safety-I being reactive and Safety-II being proactive.

Unfortunately, we mostly learn safety through incidents although it should be the other way around striving to implement the best proactive plan possible to eliminate incidents before occurrence.

With a practical view onboard, we can mainly identify three safety pillars that truly affect the overall safety. Briefly, these could possibly be:

a) Operational safety: Under this pillar we could include the operational condition and ongoing maintenance of all onboard equipment and hull / piping in general, the operational procedures such as navigation, cargo, mooring, engine, etc. the competence, experience and training of the crew and a safety management system able to identify possible trends and create a circle of continuous improvement.

b) Emergency safety: We can include the LSA and FFE equipment that will be used in an emergency by a well-trained and competent crew and should always be in perfect operational condition. Crew training - drills, evaluation, emergency procedures and company’s maintenance plan should guarantee that emergency safety remains a top priority on board.

c) Behavioral safety: Our behavior is the primary parameter that can either affect positively or negatively an activity process, even if this is the most routine one.

Commitment from the top and leading by example are the key elements of establishing a safety culture that applies to all of us, both the onshore and the ship employees.

Sophisticated procedures exist, Industry rules and guidance exist, and vast experience is also there, but still, incidents occur, quite possibly because we bypass or ignore the rules that we ourselves have set.

Admittedly, regulatory wise, there is room for improvement, however there is no magic recipe to preserve safety since it depends solely on us.

If we are truly committed and wish to take safety closer to the land of “zero incidents” then we have to take a practical, straightforward approach that encompasses Health, Safety and Well-being and simply follow and learn from the existing procedures.


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 Charis Kanellopoulos

Capt Charis Kanellopoulos started his seagoing career in 1998 having graduated from the Merchant Marine Academy of Aspropyrgos. Served on crude, product and chemical tankers, rose through the ranks and in 2008 joined a well-established shipping company as a Marine Superintendent. In 2014 he joined Marine Management Services as DPA and HSQE, Vetting Manager and since 2018 he works for Sun Enterprises Ltd as DPA. Safety, Quality and Vetting manager.