Safety First at Foss
While the waterfront has become much safer over the years, working on the water can be inherently dangerous. But Al Rainsberger says it doesn’t have to be. Rainsberger, Director of Health and Safety at Foss Maritime, is responsible for developing and implementing safety programs in the company’s various regions and at the shipyards in Seattle and Rainier, Oregon. Under his guidance, Foss has implemented a series of safety programs, including the behavior-based safety process that goes by the name of Shipmate Plus. “The Shipmate Plus system is the application of science to real world events,” Rainsberger says. “The program asks, what do they do? Why? How do you improve the system?
Rainsberger’s career as a safety professional began at Seattle’s Todd Pacific Shipyards in 1979. He was promoted to the position of safety director in 1990 and spent 16 years overseeing the safety practices of the yard before joining Foss in 2006. He launched the successful Shipmate program at the operating regions in 2009 to mirror the existing Behavior Based Safety process in the shipyards,
An immediate result of the new program was a steep reduction in lost time incidents, and the marine side has had only three lost time cases in the past three years. “Still not acceptable” stated Rainsberger, “the target and goal is zero”.
Shipmate Plus is a Behavior Based Safety Process, developed with the help of Ojai, Calif.-based Behavioral Science Technology. The program is based on the idea that worker behavior, as opposed to equipment failure, is the most common cause of accidents. Workers have been trained to observe their co-workers performing everyday tasks. Using a checklist, the observers take note of what they perceive to be safe and at risk behaviors. The results of the observation are then shared with supervisors and other workers in hopes of improving the way the particular task is performed. The safety department uses the reports to look for recurring issues and correct them. A safety observation goes something like this:
The tugboat Captain initiates a Shipmate Plus observation exercise, and the crew is instructed to review the task and watch for good and at risk safety behaviors. The shipmates observe the task or job process, and then review the process and record the behaviors observed on a special one-page check-off form.
Both safe and at risk work tasks and best practices are identified, and the forms are submitted to the main office where the data are entered into a database. From there, shoreside staff analyzes the observations that could create or revise policy and procedures.
If high-risk behavior is noted during the observation, a near miss/safety observation form can be submitted in addition to the standard form, the data is entered and the appropriate manager acts upon the issue. The check-off forms are analyzed quarterly by the safety department and a summary is sent out to all tugboats and barges.
“The process is very straightforward,” Rainsberger says, “and involves communicating with all of the employees.” As a result of the process, the crew can identify, mitigate and hopefully eliminate hazards.
The observation process is important, and hinges on the concept that the observations are anonymous. “Shipmate Plus is shipmates looking out for each other,” Rainsberger says, “No name, no blame.” The mariners know the process is not meant as a basis for discipline, but recognize that the data must be collected to analyze the results, and an observed at-risk behavior can warrant a revision to policy or procedure that removes the opportunity or temptation to act in an at risk manner going forward. “If there are 100 observations and 95 are perfect, we look for patterns in the five that aren’t.”
Any process, no matter how large or small is observed, from routine towing and hardhat use to working over the side of the vessel. The program promotes a lower risk of injury, and fewer injuries leads to more efficient production and higher morale.
“Looking at safety glasses, for example,” Rainsberger says. “Of 300 observations on safety glasses, 290 are safe, but ten are deemed at risk.” Shipmate Plus looks at why there are ten incidents regarding safety glasses. Did they fog up? Were they broken? Are they just not comfortable enough? Or did someone drop them over the side?
“We can address the issue if we know what it is,” Rainsberger says, adding that praise for proper procedure is as important as identifying the risks. “We promote the good practices and identify and improve on at risk practices,” he says.
The safety program is not only important to Foss, but also to the company’s clients, who have their own systems in place, and expect the companies with which they do business to be as proactive.
The employees are the most obvious beneficiaries of good safety practices, but the company’s clients require safety programs for themselves as well as the companies with which they do business. “Many of the larger companies will ask if you have a Behavior Based Safety Process in place,” says Rainsberger.
The Behavior Based Safety process is in its tenth year on the Shipyard side, and Shipmate Plus is entering its fifth year on the tug and barge fleet. “It’s important that people lay a foundation for safety,” Rainsberger says. “Shipmate Plus is not the silver bullet that makes a safety program successful”. All the elements of previous safety initiatives were in place to set the foundation for Shipmate Plus, including communications on accident investigations, lessons learned and near miss reporting.
The first thing you need is a commitment from senior leadership,” says Rainsberger. He has that commitment at Foss. “Foss wants mariners to stay healthy and go home to their families in the same shape as they came to work. A place of employment where you would want your own children to work.”