An industry view: how to create safety culture in your company 

Phil Parry, Spinnaker Global

Many of us are committed to high safety standards, but how do you make safety a part of your company-wide culture? In this post, Phil ParryChairman of maritime people experts Spinnaker shares insights and suggestions for making safety culture an integral part of an organisation.   


As a company specialising in recruitment and HR consulting globally firm, we see vastly different approaches to safety culture across the industryMany companies are genuinely committed and stand out a mile. For them, its more than just lip service or a few throw away words in job descriptions, and it certainly appears that a lot of that comes from the culture inherent in certain nationalitiesFor example, there are countless examples from Norway of shipowners who embed safety culture from the top down in their organisations. 

There’s a number of owners that I look to as the gold standard when we provide KPIs for our shipowner clientsI’ve often found myself going back to shipping friends from Norway to look at how they create robust safety culture. 


Safety culture must come from the top 

The gold standard companies are the ones with senior leadership teams who believe safety has to feature in everything they do. 

We are currently hiring the CEO for a large dry bulk vessel owner. As part of the recruitment process, the hiring company is extremely interested in the safety track record and the culture of the candidates. Those who are only focused on commercial gains are losing marks in the shortlisting process.  

Good safety management culture starts from the top down. A lot of the time the shipping industry is playing catch up with other industries in terms of how it trains and prepares its people for leadership roles. 

Historically we’ve been good at machinery management  we have to have planned maintenance systems (PMS) for example, but historically we haven’t focused on the people management side of safety. But with the Manila amendments to the STCW code, we began to see leadership and management aspects incorporated into regulations.  

OCIMF’s TMSA also has a focus on leadership and management. In both cases, this was new for the industry and everyone is still finding their feet as to what it really means in practice. But it’s progress. 


How organisational structures improve outcomes  

Spinnaker Global runs the Maritime HR Association. It’s made up of almost 100 ship owner and ship manager members who share and benchmark shorebased salary data around the world. We have been analysing organisational structures since 2005: how many engineers vs mariners employed in fleet managementthe staff-to-vessel ratios for each department and so on. We’ve built up a benchmark for staff and organisational structures which enables members to compare themselves with their peers and assess how lean and safety-focused their organisations are for example. 

It’s a relatively broad-brush measure, but it’s relatively easy to spot which organisations have a greater focus on safety by the greater number of people employed in their HSSE departments relative to the number of vessels owned.  Similarly, there are more HSSE staff employed in LNG and tanker fleet management than in dry bulk and fewer vessels per superintendent in the gas and tanker sectors typically too. This won’t surprise anyone I imagine; what is interesting is looking at the outliers who sit outside the organisation structure norms and [for them and us] trying to understand why.

The new DBMS looks at people and organisation structure.  It’s early days, but I expect an increasing focus on, shall we say, ‘safe organisation structures’.  With access to data that highlights staff to vessel ratios in fleet management, crewing, chartering, operations and even finance and accounting, as well as gender breakdowns shipping employers can get a lot smarter about how they do things 

Organisation structures give real insight into how seriously people treat different aspects of their business. As new leadership teams take over businesses, they tend to repeat the patterns of their predecessors – ‘more vessels per superintendent’ being a typical one. Its important that the organisation is lean, but not so lean that people are stressed and tired, and therefore more likely to make errors and communicate insensitively with crew. Leadership must recognise the consequences of their decisions in this respect and can learn a lot from comparing their organisations with others in the market. 


How the DBMS can help to strengthen safety culture  

As an industry we rail against new legislation and regulations, but we must evolve and we generally won’t do anything unless we’re forced to do it or it directly benefits the bottom line.  Initiatives like TMSA and DBMS ‘sort of’ force people by making good behaviour commercially imperative and that rewards them with preferred supplier status if you like. 

So, we are now starting to realise that properly developing our leadership teams, within the office and on board ships, impactmoraleprocesses and procedures, which directly influence safety outcomes. 

What we need to recognise and what I hope ship owners will see DBMS as doing is celebrating them for their investment in these things rather than imposing anything new. Benchmarking tools allow customers and investors to look at a company and choose it for reputation and commercial attractiveness as a counter-party. 

We’re currently involved in a senior officer leadership development program with V Ships. They know it’s the right thing for their business and their customers to develop the leadership culture of their senior officers. It’s essential to see safety culture as an investment and not a cost. 


What does the future hold? 

suspect that using the DBMS will become like wearing seat belts; in other words it will eventually only be acceptable to charter vessels from owners that meet appropriate standards.  

In time, scoring well on the DBMS should become something that ship owners mention within their Environmental Social and Governance reporting, which is already very important to investors. The whole thing becomes a selffulfilling prophesy. The landscape is changing and I expect that we will look back in wonder rather like we do at the time when seat belts were not compulsory.