Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

Vessel and Navigational Safety

 

A mate on a Western Towboat tug demonstrates the proper way to pull in a line. Photo courtesy of Western Towboat.

In association with industry safety regulations, maritime transportation companies are working hard to cultivate company-wide safety cultures. No longer are captains alone responsible for safety on vessels, or safety departments alone responsible for monitoring safety. It's everyone's responsibility.

"There are a number of elements you need to foster safety in your working environment, and communication is essential," says Jeff Slesinger, Director of Safety and Training for Seattle's Western Towboat. "There must be communication from the deck plate to the wheelhouse, the deck plate to management, and the deck plate to engineering, as all have an effect on the safety of the fleet. Our owners are accessible 24/7 and are actively engaged, so there is always a direct communication link with them."

Western Towboat is a member of the American Waterways Operators, and as a condition of membership, the company must subscribe to the Responsible Carrier Program, which is modeled after ISM. "It's a safety management system that's proven to be very effective for many towing companies, so that's the structure we use."

On a regularly-scheduled basis, Slesinger reports, the company carries out standard inspections and drills per industry regulations and every Thursday, they hold a safety conference call where safety feedback, topical issues, procedures and processes, incidents and lessons learned are discussed. The meetings also cover what the company calls "Doing it Right" where examples of crewmembers doing things correctly and going the extra mile are highlighted.

"These calls give us a chance to communicate, not only from the fleet to the office, but also amongst the fleet so if there are immediate issues, we can cover those as well," explains Slesinger. "It's actually been one of the most effective tools we have for addressing safety issues. We got the idea from Gail Johnson at Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation."

Slesinger says the industry has been slowly moving from the SILO approach to safety, where the captain alone dispatches and monitors safety protocols, to one that in most cases is now a company-wide culture. Behavior-based training also helps in this regard as safety is about more than rules and regulations.

"As an industry, we have to figure out how to assist people to behave correctly in the workplace, and that's where behavior-based training comes in," says Slesinger. "If you want to have things change, you have to figure out a way to alter the culture. And that's what our Thursday phone call is all about."

The company also provides a lot of onboard on-the-job training. Depending on what the required skill set is, there are detailed checklists for specific positions, which may also list objective criteria for evaluating people.

Regardless of position, one of the essential skills is an eye for detail; it is a key element of maintaining situational awareness and operating safely. Slesinger gives an example of a deckhand/cook position. While working in the galley, sorting silverware seems a simple task. But if the worker just stows the silverware in a haphazard way and doesn't demonstrate an eye for detail at this level, it will be difficult for the captain and crew to have faith in his or her ability to bring the focus and situational awareness required for more critical tasks such as deck work or helping in an emergency.

Additionally, when it comes to safety documentation and safety drills, Slesinger says just because someone reads about a procedure doesn't mean they'll remember it come the day they need to use it. "You have to embed that habit in your behavior," he says. "But that behavior can't just be utilized when there is an emergency drill, that eye for detail has to be used all the time. Few are born with it, but most of us can be trained on what to look for."

Through the American Waterways Operators membership, Western Towboat has also found camaraderie on safety issues. "I can guarantee that several injuries and incidents have been prevented through the open cooperative spirit among companies."

At Harley Marine Services, everything is centered around the goal of zero injuries and zero incidents. "Personnel and operational safety has to come first no matter what the job is," says Jonathan Mendes, Vice President, Health, Safety and Quality for the Seattle-headquartered company. We're always thinking for safety, stopping for safety, learning for safety and we're always sharing for safety."

Under Goal Zero, the company tracks safety trends and measures itself consistently each year on its performance. The in-house Safety Incentive Program highlights the sharing of information such as safety tips, safety articles and participation in safety meetings.

Each new hire goes through a safety quality and environmental orientation checklist. Once that is complete, when each employee gets aboard a specific vessel, they receive another safety orientation specific to that vessel. All these activities are centralized and recorded within a centralized database to ensure nothing is missed from a shoreside perspective.

Additionally, employees attend an annual two-day seminar where they experience hands-on safety training and are exposed to various computer-based learning and training modules. "Together they're combined to deliver the full compass of our company policy requirement, our regulatory requirements and our customer requirements, which we go above and beyond in all categories," says Mendes.

Near miss reporting is encouraged throughout the entire company and employees have the opportunity to submit a near miss report, which is then consolidated and reviewed, extracting key indicators which has brought excellent results. Reports are circulated to the fleet each month.

Positive Deviation focuses on what happened or is happening and looks at those employees, those individuals who have excellent safety performance in order to highlight and target what they're doing right. Harley Marine's performance-based, non-monetary reward system recognizes strong performers. Employees are compensated with a variety of items such as PPE equipment and clothing they can choose from a catalog.

Senior officers in the wheelhouse are run through a simulation assessment program at PMI-MITAGS in Seattle where their on-the-water experience is supplemented by such topics as voyage planning. Officers are scored on their performance and Mendes says the company has participated in the program for the past three years, with very good results.

On the job, the company has a Stop Mechanism process. "Should there be an unsafe operation happening we stop it and evaluate the risk and mitigate the circumstances," says Mendes. "That's where we focus, throughout the company and the industry as a whole. Positive Deviation and the Stop Mechanism, when combined, will help us continue to see significant improvement in our safety culture."

Harley Marine's safety culture starts at the top, with Founder, Chairman and CEO Harley Franco. "It's the only way you can continue to nurture and grow a safety culture," adds Mendes. "Otherwise, it will not work."

Safety is also a number one priority at Foss Maritime Company. "It's at the heart of everything we do," says Susan Hayman, Vice President, Health Safety Quality Environment (HSQE) & External Affairs. "Our safety culture is evolving. It's a continuous improvement process that we take very seriously, and our goal is to send people home in the same shape they came or better."

Hayman reports everyone at Foss from the CEO on down, is responsible for safety. "It's everyone's job to look out for everyone else whether shipmates or in the office. You have to continually look out for each other, and that's what having a safety culture means."

Foss also provides several training programs for employees like their mandatory two-day safety program, run in conjunction with outside trainers, and the company carries out onboard drills and safety meetings. Safety training and awareness continues daily, weekly and throughout the year. Quarterly regional safety meetings are also held as well as specialized training such as for fall protection. For instance, in addition to providing non-skid coatings and marking hazardous work areas, ensuring workers are situationally-aware can also help prevent slips, trips and falls. The company also provides every employee the authority to be able to stop any work action that they feel is being performed in an unsafe manner.

"We carry out a lot of job safety analysis to ensure the right equipment is used for best practices but it's also up to the master or who is in charge to have a safety conversation with the people doing the job in order to prevent injuries from happening," says Hayman. "We also have a lot of videos, and we do a lot of training in our shipyards as well. New people go through a safety orientation and vendors in the shipyard also go through orientation. Everyone has to be well aware of what the requirements are for safe operation if they're going to be in our facility or on our boats."

Other company safety processes include near miss and hazardous reporting that Hayman's department compiles and reviews lessons learned and to recognize trends. "We're constantly asking ourselves if we're doing the best we can," says Hayman. "Sometimes there are physical changes that need to happen. Sometimes it's policy and process changes. We also talk to our customers and look at other industry best practices."

Over the past seven years, Foss has significantly reduced their incident rate. Behavioral consultants have also helped in this area. "If you can go one day without anyone getting hurt, you keep building on that and next thing you know, you've gone a whole year," says Hayman. "In some regions, we've gone multiple years without an incident. It's part of the 'yes, I can' mindset. The toughest thing to get over is the mental hurdle. We're still not at zero incidents but we're working to get there every day."

Safety is one of Seaspan's three core values and it's actively promoted and monitored through key performance indicators, with ongoing safety targets and goals. "As a company, we firmly believe that zero is achievable, and we have achieved it on individual vessels and on individual work sites for long periods of time," says John Fowlis, Vice President, Fleet Maintenance. "What we haven't done yet but we're working towards is achieving it company-wide for a sustained, continuous period of time."

When new hires come on board, Fowlis says they undertake safety training but it's the individual's supervisor's responsibility to demonstrate the right safety behavior which is in addition to the prescriptive-type of procedures laid out in standard work-safe training. The company also trains office staff, accountants, dispatch workers, port captains as well as those who interface in their supply chain. "It's really about awareness," says Fowlis. "You can have a million procedures in place but that doesn't actually prevent an incident. What prevents an incident is that individual, on that day's approach to what they're about to do."

Having everyone following the same safety protocols can be a challenge when you have a geographically diverse company that has work sites on Vancouver Island as well as the Lower Mainland in Vancouver. Out of about nearly 2,000 employees, Seaspan is working with 260 worksite managers, and the company has been putting on specific workshops to ensure these leaders understand, approach and promote safety in the same way.

"When we were inconsistent in our safety culture, we had a fractured safety record," says Fowlis. "We had different safety records in different yards and on different boats because we were not addressing our culture in the same way. We were allowing it to become individualized, and this is one of the things that we're trying to change."

Fowlis is quick to point out that the work the company performs on the water and in the yards is not dangerous, that it's an environment with a lot of hazards and risks that need to be recognized, addressed and mitigated. Accident prevention initiatives include job safety briefings on a daily basis for workers at their worksites with their direct supervisors and their co-workers, covering aspects such as physical hazard inspections. "We find that a lot of our incidents can come from something very minor but they still result in somebody being injured and not returning to work the next day for whatever reason," he says. "A lot of it has to do with slips and trips and falls around the worksite or worksite cleanliness. Regular inspections focused on site safety can combat this."

"One of the tools that we're finding very effective is what is called a POWSA card," says Fowlis. "On the boats, we call them a Deck Level Hazard Assessment Card. POWSA stands for Point of Work Safety Assessment. When you meet with your crew, just before you perform a task, or if there is some new aspect to the job or a procedure has changed, it gives you the ability to ask certain questions and have everybody focus on the task at hand and look at it from a safety perspective and then attack the job."

A Foss shipyard mechanic is seen performing a safety observation. Photo courtesy of Foss Mariitme.

Seaspan also uses a stop work process. Fowlis says a good example of this would be during a typical pre-job briefing, the supervisor and crew are encouraged to discuss not only how to perform the work safely and prepare for the work, but to also think of what conditions or changes during the job would be reason to stop the work, reassess and then restart.

In 2012, the company began to include behavior-based training. "It's all about adjusting and changing people's perceptions and behaviors and communicating," says Fowlis. "Additionally, everyone is empowered to have safety conversations and that's been a real game-changer."

"Safety culture is what you do every day, even when no one is looking, and that means that I have to do this every day for the rest of my life," he adds. "I firmly believe that we are starting to see some changes within our culture, but by no means are we done."

 
 

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