Equality at sea: why dry bulk vessel crew lives must be better protected

In this article, Luke Fisher highlights the reasons why people are a central component of the DBMS and explains why all human lives must be treated as equally valuable, regardless of the type of vessel they sail on. 

When I was 16yearold, on my induction course in the 1970s, I was given a sad statistic which has stayed with me throughout my career: you are three times more likely to be fatally injured on a merchant ship than down a coal mine.  

From that moment on, I have always focused on the ways in which we can ensure all people working at sea get home safely. Historically, we have seen less attention paid to those working in dry bulk because the perception is that it doesn’t carry the same risk as other sectors 

This is simply not the case, anyone working at sea is exposed to life-threatening risk, and I am passionate about ensuring workers aboard ships can access quality safety measures, because all human lives hold equal value.  

The DBMS plays a key role in achieving equality  

One of the key principles in the DBMS is focused on protecting every person. That means that when you are working on a dry bulk vessel, whether as a crew member or as a contractor, no human’s life should be held with lower regard than another 

Commercial shipping is dangerous, but it doesn’t have to be. We have all seen the many statistics indicating the number of preventable accidents and deaths at sea every year. We are in a position to deliver meaningful change through safety management systems employed by owners and operators. 

During my time in the industry, I have heard many people say that ship owners cannot raise the standards on dry bulk operations because they do not wish to invest the money required. But if you don’t see the value in investing in safety, you are putting lives at risk. We don’t want to see preventable deaths occurring in any part of the maritime community.  

However, increasingly, I am speaking with ship owners who run mixed fleets of dry and wet vessels, who describe their enthusiasm for raising dry bulk standards in line with other parts of the industry. They have seen the merits of using exemplary safety standards in the tanker sector and seek to apply the best practices to dry bulk. 

Success begins with self-assessment 

We created the DBMS due to a clear need for rigorous standards within dry bulk. Part of this relies on each organisation scrutinising itself and identifying challenges, as other segments of shipping do.  

I understand that closing gaps within safety systems does come with costs, but we urge owners to simply begin with an honest assessment of their operations and plan for improvements over time. The necessary enhancements can be achieved through small steps and targeted focus. This is the beauty of a selfassessment scheme. Owners and operators can reflect on their own practices in their own time, benchmarking against clearly defined levels of excellence. 

Simply taking the initial steps forwards is the first and easiest driver of change. Taking the time properly scrutinise your processes is a great investment on the path to continuous improvement.  

Achieving the best results for business and people  

We understand that in today’s competitive market, owners and operators need to find ways to maintain a competitive edge. To achieve this, they must ensure performance efficiency, understand their weaknesses and adapt and evolve their practices to overcome these issues. The rewards, in both in protecting valuable human lives and providing a respectable service for charters, will, ultimately reap benefits to the ship manager.

Traditionally there was no uniform way in which the dry bulk sector could achieve this. The DBMS fills this gap for the dry bulk segment, creating a platform for operators to share best practices and champion a consistent and achievable approach to improvement.  

In turn, we aim to see better conditions for allPeople are not statistics; they are the lifeblood of our industry.     


We want to raise safety standards across the whole industry, providing a benchmark for maritime excellence – and we want you to be part of the change. We’re looking to the industry to leave feedback, big or small, on our website to help create the final version of the standards, shaped by the world we share. Submit your feedback today.