A Culture of Safety

Why does your company spend money on training?

In my experience, most organizations budget for training in response to requirements stipulated by external entities. Subchapter M clearly delineates training areas that must be provided to each individual mariner, including new hire orientation, duties associated with the execution of the company’s Safety Management System (SMS), execution of operational duties, and execution of emergency duties. Oil Companies International Marine Forum’s (OCIMF) Tanker Management and Self Assessment (TMSA) dictates another set of training requirements, this time by clients. Company leadership may view compliance of these requirements as a necessary evil, an expenditure of time and money mandatory to pass audits, continue operations, and maintain clientele.

However, through a shift in mindset and following a clear process, training can do so much more! Training, when properly aligned with business needs, can propel companies to excellence in operations and safety in a meaningful and measurable way. Training can lower incident rates, elevate performance, and even positively affect the bottom line. Training can transform company culture.

The shift in mindset is straightforward: “We train to drive risk out of our organization”. The pursuit of risk reduction through training fosters a spirit of continuous improvement and ownership of work. Rather than a necessary evil, this commitment can be embraced and recognized as a company asset experienced at all levels of the organization from the deckhand to the CEO. This shift also places the responsibility of determining training topics where it belongs, within the organization. The internal customization of training topics is very important because this process aligns resources spent on training with business needs.

The official position of the U.S. Coast Guard as stated by CDR Nicole Rodriguez, Chief of Prevention Department stationed in the Houston-Galveston Sector, encourages this approach. “The purpose of the Safety Management System is not to sit on a shelf. It should not be a paper tiger,” says CDR Rodriguez. “The SMS is meant to be a responsive, living document that eventually changes culture.”

The process in its simplest terms is: 1) identify unacceptable risk; 2) create a plan to remove the risk; 3) execute the plan; and 4) measure the results.

Using the wheelhouse as an example, the risk analysis can and should come from three sources: wheelhouse observations (in-house or third-party), near-miss reporting, and incident reporting. These three systems will reveal findings that may entail over-dependence on Rose Point Navigation Systems (Rose Point), not adhering to The Rules of the Road, improper use of radar, not following company procedures, and more. Any of these findings would represent unacceptable risks in the fleet that should be addressed.

After pinpointing the risk, partner with your training department or third-party training provider to devise a plan to close the identified gaps and thus remove them. In my opinion, a blended solution of simulation, instructor-led, and online training is most effective in accommodating a majority of learning styles.

Then, execute your plan. The training administered in this step is fully aligned with business needs because it directly targets risks specific to your company intentionally. This process is a night and day difference to the one-size-fits-all approach of training only to meet requirements.

Finally, measure the results. Measurement may be calculated through key performance indicators (KPI) for near misses and incidents as well as the results of the wheelhouse observation program. Your KPIs should improve, and your wheelhouse observation program should demonstrate that the targeted behavior or skill has improved. This process should be continuously repeated, allowing each new evolution to identify and remove new risks.

“When conducting an investigation, we examine the role of the company SMS as a factor in understanding how and why an incident happened. We ask ourselves if strong policies and procedures are in place to keep it from happening again,” says CDR Rodriguez. “The SMS will tell us if previous near-misses have been used as lessons learned to address issues that may not have been captured fully in the original documentation. Is there a root cause or complacency within the company that placed personnel at risk? Is this an accident that could have been prevented?”

The Seamen’s Church Institute is deeply committed to our mission as an advocate for the mariner. Our Center for Maritime Education is well-positioned to help any company remove risk and cultivate a culture of safety employing this process. Through our partnerships with the Safe Mariner and the ACTion Group, we provide wheelhouse observations both on-board and through simulation. We can tailor our training to your specific business needs by developing specific training interventions that leverage simulation, instructor-led training, and online learning.

This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of SCI’s newsletter The Lookout. Click here to receive a complimentary subscription to this biannual publication.