Dry Bulk Management Standard – Q&A with Luke Fisher, DBMS Project Lead

The Dry Bulk Management Standard (DBMS) aims to support the improvement of safety and risk management in the dry bulk ship management sector. Developed as a result of a collaboration between dry bulk managers and risk management professionals, it will help provide an attainable benchmark for increasing standards.

But how did it come about? This conversation with Luke Fisher dives into DBMS’s development, importance and plans for the future.

Can you briefly summarise the journey behind the development of the DBMS?

Luke Fisher: As one of the organisers involved in the initial working group responsible for kickstarting the development of the DBMS, I believe that these standards will be transformative for dry bulk shipping.

The roots of DBMS go back 2006, when our friends at OCIMF published their Tanker Management and Self-Assessment programme (TMSA). TMSA was successful and had broad uptake amongst managers in the tanker segment. At the time, this was adapted by a number of operators in the dry bulk industry for their own purposes.

DBMS wants to learn from all best practises across the industry to produce an open standards model for dry bulk that specifically targets the risks that these vessels sometimes uniquely face in the course of their operations.

Across the last 12 months we have convened six working groups to write the first set of these standards. This included leading managers, superintendents, operators and a number of individuals with technical knowledge about dry bulk shipping. The result is we have created a set of guidelines that are well rounded and target the right areas for risk management.

Why does the dry bulk sector need these standards?

Dry bulk is a unique and important part of the world economy. To think about the problems and risks they face, it is important to understand the context of the current standards within the sector.

Looking across other market segments within shipping, taking wet cargo shipping as an example, tanker operations and designs have evolved from the oil industry, where an extremely robust operating environment is required to minimise risk across the supply chain due to the dangerous cargos they often carry.

The bulk industry has not faced these same pressures to be so rigorous. Regulations for the design and equipment onboard bulk carriers have improved, and it is fair to say that the industry does take adhering to base compliance seriously. However, there has never been a reputational impact, as with the tanker segment, so it is hard for dry bulk owners, operators and managers to put a value on improvement.

Moreover, there is no way to compare a dry bulk manager’s performance against their peers, so statutory compliance becomes the baseline, and often this really can’t go far enough in allowing owners to be as good as they can be.

This is something that we believe DBMS will address and help to shift. Through collaboration and convening, we can make dry bulk operators’ performance more social, allowing them to compare their vessels, management practices and results against the rest of the market.

DBMS really helps to bring out that social side of operational excellence, and we think the possibilities are endless. We’re excited to be starting to think about seminars, webinars and roadshows to help people collaborate through the process, with the whole industry sharing best practice. DBMS will not just be a set of guidelines; it will be a forum and a community for people who want to come together and improve.

Why are these standards so exciting for the dry bulk sector?

First and foremost, DBMS has been set up by the industry, for the industry. It is a genuine roadmap for the journey dry bulk needs to take as it strives to achieve excellence beyond the compliance baseline.

It’s also important that these standards do not add extra burdens on the sector. We’ve therefore designed them using ‘EAST’ principles’:

  • Easy: DBMS is designed to take the hassle out of assessments, making it easy for operators, owners and managers to self-assess their vessels. This has been achieved by taking our four key areas – performance, people, plant and process – and breaking them down into ‘bitesize’ chunks, streamlining throughout.
  • Attractive: We want DBMS to stand alone as an important and impactful brand for collaboration and convening in the dry bulk segment. A lot of thought has gone in to making sure that companies can follow an easy path for improvement.
  • Social: For the first time, the dry bulk sector will have a way to cross-compare and work together to see if they are doing as well as others in the industry. Moreover, collaboration and feedback is at the heart of these guidelines, allowing shipping companies to directly participate in designing and updating the standard.
  • Timely: We know that improvement takes time. That’s why DBMS is designed to help companies plan to reach their goals in a step change process. Often, our feedback has been that improvement is needed and recognised, but that the means of reaching those higher standards is out of reach. DBMS solves this problem.  

With these design principles at its core, we believe that DBMS should be exciting for the dry bulk sector. These standards are about iterative, collaborative improvement – allowing the opportunity for adjustment and course correction and starting to foster an increased awareness of safety and excellence culture within the segment.

Can you briefly summarise the four key areas that were chosen for these standards (performance, people, plant and process)?

The four areas are designed to each tackle an important area for dry bulk shipping.

‘Performance’ is about driving continual improvement across the span of a vessel’s operations, especially how a crew tackles HSSE requirements. This part of the standard really tries to underpin and solidify what good practice looks like.

‘People’, meanwhile, is about supporting your workforce, and making sure the right people are properly trained and in the right jobs for their skills. Importantly, it also tries to ensure that a dry bulk shipping company, fleet or vessel operates effectively as a team, which can go a significant way to reducing risk.

‘Plant’ looks at the other side of the equation, at the dry bulk vessel itself and its equipment on board – especially safety equipment. This area is designed to maintain and improve the integrity of dry bulk vessels and their safety procedures.

Finally, ‘Process’ wraps up the standard by looking at how a company manages risk, how it provides safe systems of work, and how it reacts or learns from abnormal situations.

We believe that these four areas, and their 30 sub-areas, are comprehensive and provide a clear roadmap for the journey towards greater improvement for dry bulk. We also know that these areas can’t stand still, and they will be updated and improved in line with feedback.

All of these subject areas have their place in a well-rounded strategy for dry bulk that incorporates safety, environment and social responsibility.

How will DBMS improve through further collaboration?

Collaboration has been at the core of these standards throughout their development. We believe that the DBMS will only be as strong and effective as it can be if the expertise and experiences of many dry bulk experts and players is taken into account. Therefore we call upon everyone in the industry to provide their feedback and to get involved to shape the future of the world we share.

We will continue this practise as time goes on, and once more feedback is shared. The standards will be continually enhanced to support dry bulk owners achieve more and go beyond the compliance baseline.

To sum this up, we really do want DBMS to be a forum to space where people can come together for collaborative improvement. We see time and time again – and the feedback from the sector echoes – that working together is one of the easiest ways to effect real change. Because DBMS is split into segments, we will be able to move quickly and update risk management areas with best practice regularly, constantly making sure that it is means tested and fit for purpose for an improving dry bulk segment.