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Safety Culture in the Maritime Industry Report

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Updated: Jul 1st, 2020


The maritime industry has become one of the most lucrative industries by contributing greatly to national development and international trade. Over the years, our company has successfully shipped cargo across the nation and ensured that the various businesses that depend on our delivery of goods work efficiently through the provision of reliable service delivery and maintenance of the quality of their goods during transportation.

Therefore, it is safe to derive that the success of the maritime industry, and particularly our company, greatly influences the wellbeing of other industries such as the textile, automotive, and food industries that rely on us, thus placing significant pressure in the consistency of optimal performance of our company. In the past, the company has successfully fulfilled its duties to its clients by ensuring the arrival of their goods on schedule. However, over the past twelve months, our ships have been involved in three separate incidents, thus resulting in concern over several matters, with key among them being the adequacy of the current safety culture at the company.

Historically, incidents and accidents involving vessels such as ours have created risks of damage to the vessels, cargo, and the environment, thus endangering the lives of employees (Alisadeh & Nomikos 2009). Such accidents have also created strenuous relationships between companies and host governments and in some instances foreign governments within which shipping companies conduct business. For instance, in November 2002, the Prestige, which is a heavy fuel oil tanker, sprung a leak on the Galician coast, thus creating a potential hazard to the environment.

Initially, the vessel master had refused assistance from a tugboat citing financial costs for such refusal. However, the situation deteriorated, and thus resulted in a rescue attempt by four tugboats, which failed as the Spanish government refused to accord the vessel permission to dock in its ports. The vessel stayed at sea where it broke into two and sank six days later on November 19 the same year (The Guardian 2002). The incident raised questions such as whether there was the implementation of all necessary precautions at the time and the extent to which such loss was avoidable.

The most significant factor in this case, as with most other maritime accident cases, was the human factor. According to the Accident Database Review of Human-Element Concerns Report by the American Bureau of Shipping, human error causes approximately eighty to eighty-five percent of maritime accidents (Baker 2005). One of the most recent examples of similar incidents is the capsizing of the Coasta Concordia in 2012.

The company’s concerns over the potential damage or loss of the three vessels and the cargo they carried at the time are thus valid, which forms the basis for the analysis of the company’s current safety culture and the creation of a more robust safety culture. This report contains a literature survey and critical analysis of the concept of safety culture. It also identifies and critically analyses major safety culture constituents that apply to this company as well as recommendations for a more robust safety culture for the company.

Further, the report will evaluate the implementation strategy for the new safety culture onboard the vessels in order to determine the financial costs of such implementation, the timeline within which such implementation is possible, and some of the challenges that the company expects during and after the implementation process. This analysis factors in the diverse nature of our multinational crews, the current management model, and the company’s goals and objectives.

Literature survey

Definition of safety culture

Over the years, various scholars have developed varying definitions of the term ‘safety culture’, which mostly dependent on their consideration of what constitutes essential elements of the term. While some scholars define the term as a constituent of attitudes of employees and management teams at the workplace, others take a behavioural approach to the definition, while others still consider the integration of the two perspectives in their approach. Essentially, safety culture concerns the management of safety in the workplace and it reflects attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and values that employees share regarding the maintenance of safety in the workplace in the execution of their duties (Duffey & Saull 2008).

The term ‘safety culture’ became a trend after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in April 1986. An explosion and fire at the power place resulted in a release of large quantities of radioactive particles in addition to deaths of dozens of people and destruction of property. Cancers and deformities resultant from the blast persist to date. The containment of the contamination that the blast caused took more than five hundred thousand workers and cost over seventeen billion roubles.

Hetherington, Flin, and Mearns (2006, p.409) posit that the ‘disaster brought attention to the importance of the creation of a safety culture within the workplace and the impact of human factors on safety performance’. Initially, corporations placed great focus on safety strategies and technical factors such as operation of equipments and largely ignored the human performance aspect in the prevention of disasters in the workplace (Taylor 2010). However, such limited definition of safety culture has changed since then as different industries now bear interpretations that suit their operations.

Clarke (2000, p.66) posits that the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA) defines safety culture to entail the ‘assembly of characteristics and attitudes in organisations and individuals which establish that, as an overriding priority, nuclear plant safety issues receive attention warranted by their significance’. On the other hand, Antonsen (2009, p.16) notes that the UK Health and Safety Commission (HSC) provides a more integrated definition for safety culture as ‘the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, style, and proficiency of an organisation’s health and safety management’.

Unlike the IAEA’s definition, the breadth of scope of the HSC’s approach to the definition of safety culture allows for its application in various organisations in as far as the issue of health and safety is concerned. Cooper (2001, p.15) incorporates behavioural attributes in his definition of safety culture as ‘the product of multiple goal directed interactions between people (psychological), jobs (behavioural) and the organisation (situational)’.

Cooper’s (2001) definition is applicable in most workplace situations regardless of the industry under which a company falls as it essentially addresses the interrelationship of an organisation’s safety aims, different perceptions that employees have regarding the constitution of safety, and the normal day-to-day behaviour of each individual in any workplace setting with regard to safety performance. Cooper’s (2001) definition implies the existence of a safety management system, which is essential for the creation of a proper safety culture. Cooper (2001) explains that the quality of a safety management system dictates the existence of goal-oriented safety behaviour, which is an important aspect in the preventions of accidents at the work place.

Constituent elements of safety culture

An analysis of the above literature with regard to the definition of the term ‘safety culture’ reveals certain aspects that form the constituent elements of the concept. One such element, which is prominent in the above definitions, is the perception of safety. Perception forms the psychological element of the concept of safety culture and according to Cooper (2001), it influences the attitude that different people in the workplace have regarding the issue.

For instance, some workers only consider the immediate danger associated with certain environments or situations and develop perceptions of safety around such considerations. Some examples that these people think of in their considerations include immediately perceivable dangers such as slipping on wet floors and electrocution due to exposed electrical wiring.

On the other hand, other employees consider the results of the persistence or existence of certain conditions in the workplace when forming their perceptions of safety. For instance, in reference to the above example, such an employee considers the frequency at which the floor gets wet, prevention measures for such wetness, the resultant costs of addressing the issue personally, and the cost of alternative options such as ignoring the situation and leaving it to the janitor.

Some employees address the issue of safety in terms of the roles and duties that each employee has at a company. For instance, while one employee might consider the duty of dealing with the exposed wiring as the responsibility of the electrician, another may hold the management responsible for lack of proper oversight on maintenance of company facilities. Most companies offer safety-training sessions in order to establish a unified perception on what the general perception of safety for their employees should constitute as part of the creation process of a safety management system.

The difficulty with perception as a psychological constituent is that individuals in a work place control their own safety operations. Although it may be easy to alter rules on safety, changing individual perceptions on safety presents an entirely different challenge for any company’s management. It is also often difficult to synchronise between individual perceptions on safety and company goals, which leads Rothblum (2005) together with Ek and Akelsson (2005) to conclude that the management should pay close attention to the human component, as employees control the success of any safety culture.

Attitude forms the second constituent of safety culture. Weick (1987, p.112) defines an effective safety culture as one requiring a ‘clear understanding of the system and its safety features, positive attitudes towards safety measures, and an incentive system that encourages safety operations’. Essentially, Weick (1987) links positive attitudes towards safety performance to understanding a company’s safety features and the existence of incentives that encourage the development of a positive safety culture among individuals at a workplace.

In his explanation, Weick (1987) states that employees are likely to react positively to safety regulations at the workplace if the company’s management recognises and rewards their effort, thus equating safety performance to rewards. By striving for positive individual safety performance, employees generate a collective positive attitude towards safety, thus resulting in a well-established safety culture that new employees adopt with time. However, Weick (1987) states that companies must first create an understanding of what constitutes positive safety performance, usually through training instead of allowing individual perceptions to dominate.

Another essential component of safety culture, as Thai and Grewal (2006) note, is the behaviour in a workplace, which is reinforced by the duties that various people play in the work environment. The authors identify management commitment and employee involvement as essential elements in the development of an effective safety culture and express the opinion that the formation and maintenance of such culture goes beyond safety procedure rules and regulations to include the actions of the management staff of any company regarding the enforcement of safety performance.

Thai and Grewal (2006) also state that the involvement of employees in the development of an effective safety culture works better as it shapes the attitudes of employees on the matter through reinforcement of their worth to the company’s successful execution of rules and regulations. Thai and Grewal (2006) explain that when managers adhere strictly to safety regulations, they create examples of what they expect of their employees, thus easing obedience from employees.

Further, involvement of employees through implementation of opinions on safety features that concern them makes the implementation process easier and ensures minimal changes to safety policies over time, which might raise company costs through features such as acquisition of new equipment. Overall, this aspect fosters commitment, responsibility, communication, and learning (Havold 2005).

Safety culture review

According to Thai and Grewal (2006), safety culture forms part of the organisational culture at any company, regardless of the industry in question. Therefore, the successful implementation of an effective safety culture relies on the safety culture’s compatibility with the overall organisational culture. Organisational culture develops over time from the frequency and manner in which individuals at an organisation conduct their activities.

Organisational culture constitutes elements such as the arrival time of employees at work, the manner of interaction between employees and management, and the dress code permissible at a work place among other aspects. The implementation of any policy that creates a likelihood of altering the dynamics that constitute an organisation’s overall culture is likely to meet resistance from employees. Parker (2000) notes that such difficulties emerge from the predictability and convenience that an organisation’s culture creates for employees, thus leading to the creation of a friendly work environment in which people adapt and employ their skill sets with relevant ease.

Thai and Grewal (2006) suggest careful consideration of the existent overall organisational structure before the implementation of a safety culture, including any significant changes that the adoption of a new safety culture or alterations of an old safety culture might create.

It is vital for our company to analyse the adoption of any new safety culture or significant alterations to the existing model with regard to the impacts that such changes would have on the overall organisational culture (Guldenmund 2000). This assertion holds, as it will allow the management team to gauge the degree of acceptance and resistance that any changes might generate from the employees’ population and generate counter measures to mitigate such changes without compromising the company’s financial health.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) (2014, par. 6) notes that an ‘organisation with a safety culture is one that gives appropriate priority to safety and realises that safety has to be managed like other areas of the business’. IMO (2014) holds that professionalism forms the root from which players in the maritime industry should generate their safety culture.

An important element of the organisation’s perspective on the issue of safety culture is its opinion on culture in terms of accident prevention and reduction. IMO (2014, par.8) holds that in terms of ‘shipboard operations, it is to do the right thing at the right time in response to normal and emergency situations’. Additionally, IMO (2014, par. 11) notes that the ‘quality and effectiveness of that training will play a significant part in determining the attitude and performance the seafarer will subsequently demonstrate in his or her work’.

The attitude of employees in the shipping industry depends on the overall culture of the organisation (Hetherington, Flin, & Mearns 2006). Therefore, it is crucial to identify the strengths and flaws in the current overall organisational culture while conducting a review and developing the strategic implementation of any new rules to the safety culture. The main problem with the current safety culture at our company is the lack of a rounded approach to the safety culture.

The company concentrates on either the technical or human error aspects regarding onboard safety measures by tackling each issue in isolation from the other instead of adopting an integrated approach. The company appreciates the importance of technical improvements in the prevention of accidents, but it does not deal with the issue of human error with the severity it deserves.

Historically, technical fault has been the main area of concern in the shipping industry and it has resulted in heavy investments in the prevention of such hitches through the purchase and installation of quality equipment and emergency gear (Hurst 1998). However, the industry has experienced little decline in accidents in the recent past, thus leading to the conclusion that the human factor plays a huge role in the occurrence of maritime accidents as seen in the table below.

Type of accident Percentage
tanker accidents 84-88 %
towing vessel groundings 79 %
collisions 89-96 %
fires and explosions 75 %

Source: (Rothblum 2005)

The adoption of HSC’s elements of mutual trust and shared perceptions of importance of safety between the management team and employees in the establishment of an effective safety culture will go a long way in improving this company’s safety culture.

Analysis of recommendations for development of a robust safety culture

Thai and Grewal (2006) insist on the necessity for robust safety cultures in companies operating in the maritime industry as lack of such cultures places the company’s capital, employees, and the maritime environment at risk. Borodzicz (2005) agrees to the various benefits that accrue to a company resultant of an efficient safety culture. Borodzicz (2005) explains that an effective safety culture fosters profitability through the anticipation and prevention of situations likely to result in huge losses in the event of crisis mitigation.

Borodzicz (2005) points out that sometimes the expenditure necessary for ensuring the safety of property is less than that which a company would use to repair or rebuild such property in the case of damage or destruction in disaster situations. Prudent disaster prevention and management measures such as the purchase of enough first aid equipment and fire extinguishers should be part of every company’s risk management strategy and subsequent safety culture. Borodzicz (2005) also notes the ability of a robust safety culture to increase employee efficiency and overall productivity. Caroselli (2000) explains that employees working in an environment that they consider as safe concentrate on their duties as they worry less about accidents and danger to their health.

Podomoroff’s (2005) contribution to safety culture also revolves around the value of an employee. Podomoroff’s (2005) perspective on the value of employees and the subsequent necessity of safety culture practices that protect workers stems from his consideration of workers in terms of human capital. Podomoroff (2005) posits that employees comply with rules that they consider as profitable or directed to their personal interest as such rules reinforce the notion of value that the company places on its employees.

In this case, employees that perceive safety regulations as part of the company’s way of protecting their interests comply with such regulations, lower the risks of accidents, and generate higher revenues to the benefit of the company. Thirdly, effective safety culture practices, like all other organisational culture practices, improve the quality and reliability of goods and services that companies provide. In the maritime industry, the two components are essential for the sustainability of business in shipping. Customers should know that they could depend on the shipping company to deliver their products on time and in good condition. Lastly, a robust safety culture ensures a company’s good reputation and fosters a culture of trust from employees and customers, thus increasing business opportunities and revenue.

Although the idea of the development of a robust safety culture for the company is fairly easy and applicable, it is not without its challenges. The main challenge facing the company is gaining financial approval for the project from various stakeholders. Most people have trouble in associating safety with profits and perceive additional safety training and development of new safety measures as expenditures, and thus reductions in profit (Vaughn 2011). However, the recent accidents should make it easier for the management teams to convince shareholders of the urgency to undertake the improvement of the current safety culture into a robust form that is likely to increase company profits.

Strategy for development of a robust safety culture

The main strategy for the creation of a robust safety culture for this company involves the incorporation of new ideas in the transformation of the existent safety culture. The strategy is goal-oriented and progressive in nature. The company will implement the strategy in three levels, which are spread over a period of five years in order to ease management and provide a window of review that is essential for monitoring the success of the plan for optimal results.

The first level will involve the development of a management control system consisting of monitoring procedures and frequent feedback mechanisms for strategic plans. This level ensures that the new safety plans are flexible enough to accommodate changes in the overall organisational cultures, yet simple enough for actualisation and oversight procedures (Guldenmumd 2000).

One of the plans that fall under this level is the installation of a new-networked computer system in which the onboard crew will enter their daily logs during convenient times of the day and allow the management team on land to monitor and establish practices that form the daily routine of the crew. It will also provide the onboard crew with a fast method of communicating with the team on land in case they require urgent assistance.

The computers will include a satellite tracking system that allows the management team to locate all the ships in the fleet at all times, which is vital in scenarios where communication networks are inadequate. The tracking system will allow the management team to identify the appropriate intervention plan when an accident occurs, including the fastest, safest, and most cost-effective way to avail the ships assistance regardless of global location (Florczak 2002). The installation of the computers will take place upon immediate approval for the new safety culture strategy by the stakeholders in order to allow the onboard crew and on-land team enough time to adapt to the new system- approximately three months.

The second level will require the development of a management information system. This system’s core purpose will be to evaluate the current practices of the company in terms of safety performance and identify practices that require improvement, alteration, or replacement. This level requires a review of the entire current organisational culture inclusive of the safety culture and is thus likely to take approximately six months to one year to execute. The company will need to hire a safety practitioner as per the ISM Code (Kuo 1998) and create a risk control system, including an appropriate contingency for emergencies (Kristiansen 2005). The contingency fund will be part of the recurring expenditure and thus falls under the company’s long-term expenses.

The final level regards the involvement of different players in the company’s safety strategy by requiring their active involvement in the execution of new plans developed as part of this strategy. The main task in this level concerns convincing people on the importance of engaging in the new safety strategy and participating in the company’s long-term safety goals. The main feature at this level will be collective training of both managers and subordinate employees (Esbensen, Johnson, & Kayton 1985). The training sessions will occur in normal company settings as well as informal settings where outdoor activities will encourage communication, which is essential in the new robust safety culture (International Maritime Organisation 2009; Roughton & Mercurio 2002).

Reference List

Alisadeh, A & Nomikos, K 2009, Shipping Derivatives and Risk Management, Palgrave Macmillan, London.

Antonsen, S 2009, Safety Culture: Theory, Method, and Improvement, Ashgate, Farnham.

Baker, C 2005, Accident database review of human element concern: What do the results mean for classification? Web.

Borodzicz, E 2005, Risk, Crisis, and Security Management, Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

Caroselli, M 2000, Leadership Skills for Managers, McGraw Hill, New York.

Clarke, S 2000, ‘Safety culture: under-specified and overrated’, International Journal of Management Reviews, vol. 2 no.1, 65-90.

Cooper, D 2001, Improving Safety Culture, John Wiley & Sons, Upper Saddle River.

Duffey, R & Saull, W 2008, Managing Risk, John Wiley & Sons, Chichester.

Ek, A & Akelsson, R 2005, ‘Safety culture on board six Swedish Passenger ships’, Maritime Policy & Management, vol.32 no.2, 159-176.

Esbensen, P, Johnson, E & Kayton, P 1985, , Web.

Florczak, C 2002, Maximizing Profitability with Safety Culture Development, Butterworth – Heinemann, Burlington.

Guldenmund, F 2000, ‘The nature of safety culture: a review of theory and research’, Safety Science, vol. 34 no.3, pp.215-257.

Havold, J 2005, ‘Safety-culture in a Norwegian shipping company’, Journal of Safety Research, vol. 36 no.1, pp. 441-458.

Hetherington, C, Flin, R & Mearns, K 2006, ‘Safety in shipping: The human element’, Journal of Safety Research, vol. 37, pp.401-411.

Hurst, N 1998, Risk Assessment: The Human Dimension, The Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge.

IMO: Safety Culture 2011, Web.

Kristiansen, S 2005, Maritime Transportation: Safety Management and Risk Analysis, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford.

Kuo, C 1998, Managing Ship Safety, LLP Professional Publishing, London.

Parker, M 2000, Organisational Culture and Identity, Sage, London.

Podomoroff, D 2005, 365 ways to motivate and reward your employees every day: with little or no money, Atlantic Publishing Company, Starke.

Rothblum, A 2000, Human error and marine safety, Web.

Roughton, J & Mercurio, J 2002, Developing an Effective Safety Culture, Butterworth–Heinemann, Woburn.

Taylor, J 2010, Safety Culture, Gower Publishing, Farnham.

Thai, V & Grewal, D 2006, ‘The Maritime Safety Management System (MSMS): A Survey of the International Shipping Community’, Maritime Economics & Logistics, vol. 8 no.3, pp.287-310.

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Vaughn, G 2011, ‘Creating a safety culture’, Railway Age, vol.212 no.6, pp.48-50.

Weick, K 1987, ‘Organisational culture as a source of high reliability’, California Management Review, vol.29 no.2, pp.112-127.

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