Cultures of Safety

Report Text:

I am writing in response to the report in Maritime Feedback Issue No 19, entitled ‘Medical Indisposition’.

I have been a Chief Engineer at sea for many years.  In all these years I have sailed under many superintendents of different nationalities.  In my experience most of the superintendents remember the ISM Code only when convenient to them or when some discrepancy is pointed out to them by auditors.  There are very few superintendents who are willing to stand up to the commercial pressures and side with the Captain and say “I fully support you in your decision to delay the ship’s sailing because you have to take rest to comply with the ISM Code” And if the concerned superintendent is not one of those few enlightened persons; then it is a most sure way of getting relieved at the earliest, even with tight availability of officers.

I can give many examples from my personal experience.  But will mention only two of them.  In one instance we had a main engine breakdown at anchorage and were working round the clock so as not to miss the berthing schedule.  After 20 hours of continuous working, the superintendent said to me “Chief, stop the work and everybody get some sleep for six hours and continue work after that. Don’t worry about missing the berthing schedule.  I will take care of it.” No doubt that boosted the morale of the staff and after the short break, guys were back on the job with a lot of enthusiasm.

Another incident:  Again at anchor and we had a breakdown with the windlass.  It was only one day’s sailing to the next port and four days to the berth as per schedule.  We worked around the clock for 36 hours, with a small break of three hours.  When the problem was fixed, the superintendent said, “Heave up the anchor and proceed to the next port immediately.  “I suggested that since guys were tired and since there was more than two days to the berth at the next port, with one days sailing, we should take a break of six hours before starting the engine for sailing.  The reply was a terse, “Heave up the anchor now and proceed to sea.  If you want to take rest you can stop and drift when the ship is at sea.”

These are two extreme examples, in the same company, but different superintendents.

CHIRP Comment:

The response of a ship manager to a fatigue issue provides a good test of the culture of safety in a company.  A good response from a superintendent to a Captain in situations such as those described in this letter would be: “I fully support the delay to the ship.  We certainly don’t want to be carrying out safety-critical operations if the key people are fatigued.”

If you are a senior manager, are you confident that all your superintendents will consistently give priority to safety over commercial considerations? Do you have safety management procedures that reinforce this?

If you are a seafarer and are under pressure to do something that may compromise safety, then ideally you should feel able to discuss this with a senior officer or with the company’s Designated Person. If not, please do contact CHIRP. We will follow it up in such a way that the confidentiality of the report is maintained and your identity is not disclosed.