Safety First…and Second…and Third…

The safety of our seafarers must be the shipping industry’s top priority. Two examples that prove strong leadership, learning from incidents and collaboration can significantly improve safety.

March 23 2018

Driven by a global population growing by 200,000 people a day, cargo movement by sea has more than doubled since 1990, from four to nine billion tonnes. Shipping these goods and energy is vital for our society to function and the safety of our seafarers must be the shipping industry’s top priority. There is nothing worse than a major incident. People are killed and injured, memories last forever and time never heals. Reputations are damaged and the costs are high.

Globally over the last 10 years, on average 120 ships have been lost every year. These statistics could be an under-statement when fishing boat incidents are taken into account. Studies have shown that the shipping industry has a fatal accident rate 20 times that of the average British worker and five times that of construction.  This is unacceptable and needs action.

There can be no compromise when it comes to safety. These are our people and their families trusted us as an industry to look after their loved ones. Good safety not only means that people go home to their families, but it is also good business. Good safety results in motivated and dedicated staff, high operating efficiency and sustained performance.

I believe strong leadership is key to improving safety practices.  People look up to their leaders. The leader sets the vision and the direction. Ship owners, CEOs and Boards need to actively drive safety agendas. Not just talk about safety, but to demonstrate visible leadership as a matter of priority.

The industry also needs to give a greater profile to accidents; why they have happened, and what can be done to prevent them from happening again. The real root causes must be found, lessons learned, changes made and verified as being in place.

The industry needs to work together as one team to improve safety. It also needs to feature more strongly in the media and reporting, ahead of commercial activities.

I would like to highlight two examples that prove strong leadership, learning from incidents and collaboration can significantly improve safety. One is well established; the other a new, innovative and exciting programme.

The first is called “Partners in Safety” and was introduced in 2012 by Shell as a global programme. Working together with leaders from 500 top shipping and maritime companies, the results have been impressive with a reduction in the number of serious actual and potential incidents by more than three since 2011.

Regional focus groups in Singapore, London, Rotterdam and Houston drive the scheme centred around four key areas:

  1. Encouraging visible safety leadership by CEOs and senior leaders, through visiting their vessels. Strong leadership action dramatically improves safety. Leaders visiting their vessels let the crew hear and see that safety is the top priority directly from the top, and allow leadership to engage with and understand any concerns or issues the crew might have.
  2. Reinforce crew’s safety behaviours and procedural compliance, which is often the root cause of serious incidents. We have found ‘reflective learning’ programmes promote safe practises, by encouraging crew members to discuss dilemmas and confirm compliance with procedures, during interactive discussions on vessels.
  3. Improved learning from incidents to ensure they aren’t repeated. Studies have shown that most people don’t retain information that is simply read by them or to them.  Instead, we have been using high impact visual engagement tools in interactive learning sessions on-board vessels to help prepare crews for hazards.
  4. Care for people focusing on seafarer’s health and welfare, through resilience. By improving resilience, crew members will have a more positive mindset and a wider range of strategies for dealing with everyday problems, both at home and on board.

This programme has seen impressive results in the last five years, dramatically improving safety performance of the companies involved.  I have also seen first-hand significant improvements in morale when I make visits to ships.

The second safety programme is called HiLo, which stands for High Impact Low Frequency with the objective to eradicate catastrophic events. This is a new innovative and exciting safety programme, that is being led by Shell. It has been formed as an independent and joint industry initiative, which uses a predictive mathematical model using ship incident data to highlight a pattern of events that, if left unchecked, could lead to a major incident.

The HiLo predictive model was created by Shell Shipping & Maritime, Maersk Tankers and Lloyd’s Register Consulting in 2016. Taking lessons from other industries such as aviation, rail and nuclear, HiLo analyses shipping data to identify precursors, or weak signals, to predict, and therefore avoid incidents. The data is currently collected on ships, as incident and near miss reporting, but not used to its full potential. With HiLo, the crew have a strong interest in ensuring the data is of the highest quality and they receive insights that could save them from serious harm.

Following a successful pilot of the HiLo model in mid-2016, eight ship operator and technical management companies joined Shell, Maersk Tankers and Lloyd’s Register Consulting to create a joint-industry project. HiLo can be applied to all ships, whether tankers, containers, ferries, cruise liners and potentially naval ships too. I would like to invite all in the industry to join us in this journey. In the weeks and months ahead, there will be further announcements about HiLo and how you can be a part of this exciting future.

My hope is that HiLo will establish the way forward for further collaboration across our industry, driving improvements in safety performance.

The programmes above have and will, improve the shipping industry the world over. For every ship, every company, every crew member. Safety must be the priority. It must be driven by the top leadership across the industry, working as one. Just as shipping companies innovate to increase profits and efficiency, these same companies should constantly strive to find new ways to make the shipping industry safer.

My vision is of a zero-incident industry. A vision where never again will a child lose their father or mother because of an accident at sea. That is why safety must be the first, second and third priority of every company. We have the power to make the changes, so let’s work together to do just that.

The views expressed in this Insight are those of the author alone and not necessarily those of the Global Maritime Forum. Excerpts may be published with reference to the Global Maritime Forum.

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