Understanding safety culture

Fena Boyle. Credit: UK Chamber of Shipping

While understanding and implementing a good safety culture can seem complex, it is essential to building a safer shipping industry

The start of a new decade gives us an opportunity to look at things with a new perspective and renewed sense of purpose, and no topic is more important to do this with than safety.

There are many different elements to safety, and they are all vitally important. However, there is one element that underpins safety entirely: safety culture.

Safety culture may sound like a buzz term being bandied around by the industry, but understanding this complex cultural paradigm is of utmost importance if we are to improve safety at sea. There are many ways in which safety culture can be adopted and implemented, and various ways in which it is described. All this information can be difficult for organisations to decipher, resulting in an unclear vision of what a ‘good’ safety culture entails and its overall aim.

Over the last two years, the UK Chamber of Shipping has focused on the need to improve safety culture across the industry to help reduce accidents and incidents. A dedicated safety culture working group, made up of chamber members, was created to bring industry stakeholders together to share best practice and common issues, and develop a more cohesive understanding of the term ‘safety culture’.

The working group has covered several topics ranging from effective reporting, ship visits, visible leadership, and data collection to find the most effective way to apply safety culture to their various business and vessel types. It is clear there is no one-size-fits-all approach, but by sharing ideas and having open discussions, we can learn from each other and help to keep our seafarers safe.

To understand the impact safety culture has on an organisation, and the improvements we may implement, we must first develop a baseline to measure it against. Measuring safety culture is not without its complications and with so many different roles, vessel types and definitions, it can be difficult to know where to begin.

The chamber is working with its members to understand the data currently being collected, the most effective ways in which this data can be used, and the difficulties that may be faced when trying to decipher the obtained information. This will take time and needs continued collaboration, but there is clear interest from the industry that this data is necessary to provide a detailed picture of our current safety profile.

The chamber’s newly developed safety culture charter, created in colloboration with our members, aims to encourage senior management of shipping companies to reassess their current organisational safety culture and take active steps to improve it. This is achieved by developing commitment actions that senior management plan to implement over a period of time, as well as encouraging the reporting of incidents and accidents, driving a ‘just and fair’ culture, making safety the top priority, and empowering people to take their safety seriously.

The safety culture charter has had 25 shipping companies adopt it since its launch during the London International Shipping Week in September 2019 and impacts nearly 100,000 seafarers on more than 1,700 vessels worldwide.

Safety culture continues to play an important part in the make-up of improving safety on board vessels. To reduce the number of accidents and incidents, we must first address how people see safety and encourage a more open and honest way of working towards a safer industry. Only when there is support and implementation will there be change, and an improvement in safety will be seen.