Developing Cultures of Safety and Quality in Ship Management

Matt Dunlop
Matt Dunlop

Published Mar 26, 2020 5:55 PM by Matt Dunlop

Ship management has a significant role to play in shaping the future of shipping. In the face of the environmental, safety, security and wellbeing pressures that are facing the marine industry and mariners, it is imperative for the industry to respond. In tandem, shipping and ship management are experiencing a refreshing expansion in how they are embracing many aspects of the technological revolution. 

While technology will have a significant role in helping shipping respond to these challenges and pressures, the core of ship management is people. As such, the ship management industry has a unique role to play in combining this expanded suite of technological services at their disposal with best practice training and creating a culture of safety and performance. Consequently, the relationship between owner and third-party manager becomes more refined, personal and focused on delivering consistent high quality. 

Ship management is, and will always remain an inherently people business, whether it is the 3,000 shore-based staff at V.Group, or the 44,000 seafarers we manage, people are our most important assets. It is vital to ensure the best approach to developing the right skills and expertise that we need to refine ship management services and respond to challenges. There are a number of approaches being taken at V.Group to ensure that the human aspect of ship management is capitalised, that broadly incorporate fostering leadership at all levels, developing the right culture and ensuring the right training outcomes. 

A priority area common to all owners, ship managers, ports and crew is safety. When safety is compromised, owners face a litany of high impact ramifications. Foremost on the minds is the risk of crew fatalities or serious injury.

When it comes to generating a safety driven, high quality ship management service, the human factor is fundamental. At V.Group, we develop safety driven practices by developing a culture of safety. Part of this is to create a flatter leadership structure. Whereas the previous culture on a vessel had been stiff, deeply hierarchical and conservative, junior officers and ratings might have felt they didn’t feel empowered to speak up and raise safety concerns. 

However, where the captain can still be in overall command, by fostering a culture of safety-driven leadership at all levels, vessels can have 20 pairs of eyes looking out for risks rather than just one. Driving this is a number of programs that seek to inculcate a culture of safety through behaviours. Through our “stop the job” program, we are lifting examples directly from sectors such as aviation and medicine to open communication channels on vessels wen a safety risk is spotted. Through training, a flatter leadership structure is established to develop leadership skills that underpin the empowerment of all ranks and acknowledges their role in safety. 

In order to accelerate a culture of safety through empowering people to speak up when safety is compromised, the flatter leadership culture needs to be replicated amongst shore-based colleagues. Much in the same way it is being developed on vessels, an open style of leadership is being developed at V.Group. This underpins all of the fleet cell training programs as a way of helping ship management deal with the issues they may face in their day-to-day operations as well as long-term pressures. 

This manifests in not only nurturing a collaborative atmosphere in the fleet cell, but by having the cell members talk to all crew members when on board, instead of inspecting and auditing with a clipboard between them and the mariners. Where this development of leadership style is also being seen is also with the V.Group leadership team itself, who are embracing open leadership, placing themselves accountable to the entire organization. To build a culture, you must start at the top, and through this example, dynamic, leadership can be shared throughout all cells and vessels. 

Underpinning this is the digital infrastructure, ShipSure2.0, which while being a vital tool supporting day-to-day ship management, can also support the robust training needs of seafarers by logging training data and identifying areas where more training is needed. Through integrating digital learning and mandatory training uptake amongst crew, shore-based fleet managers can have an active insight into the current state of training amongst the crew. This is particularly helpful in enabling fleet cells, the most fundamental unit of ship management, to be proactive around training needs, and providing meaningful support to ensure training is kept up to date. 

This allows us to determine training based on a robust analysis, careful consideration must be given to establishing which training tools to use – of which there is a rapidly developing and growing suite of choices. As well as the traditional classes and paper-based collateral, we are seeing an emerging use of simulators to train seafarers. However, we see that very often the best return on investment for training is generated by using more of the ‘tried and tested’ technologies.  The role of simulators, classes, reflective learning drill and multimedia solutions such as digital e-learning packages should not be overlooked.

Productivity, efficiency and reliability are driven by a safety. It is the number one priority at V.Group. If a safety driven culture can be developed through flatter, yet dynamic leadership, then consistent, high quality service will follow. This vision came to fruition in 2019, which saw an increase of reporting by 14 percent, leading to a reduction in lost time injuries by 34 percent. 

If a culture of safety is developed, then an atmosphere conducive to handling other issues in shipping can be more easily tackled. We are already seeing steps being taken to support seafarer well-being, enhancing crew productivity and supporting retainer levels. Furthermore, we can lay the foundations for supporting greater environmental practices in line with overall policy shift and technology adoption for shipping’s route to decarbonization. For example, we can mitigate wasteful behaviors, place environmental protection in the minds of seafarers and shore-staff and adopt a greater diversity of talent that will make up the future generations of mariners and shore-based staff. 

With the unprecedented COVID-19 challenges the world is facing today, having an effective safety culture onboard and ashore has never been so important, supporting our seafarers and families through these difficult times is our immediate focus.

Matt Dunlop is Executive Director – HSEQ, V.Group. 

The products and services herein described in this press release are not endorsed by The Maritime Executive.