Plan for Safety: Leadership is Key

Larry DeMarcay

By Larry DeMarcay

Effective leadership and a safety management system
are the keys to success. Failure to lead has
consequences.

Over the last 20 years we have seen a dramatic shift in the way
that our industry operates. When I started practicing law, many
companies looked at safety planning as a balancing act where you
weighed the costs associated with safety against the costs
associated with working through employee claims. Unfortunately,
our employees often ended up on the losing side of the balancing
test. The industry goal seemed to be completing the task at hand,
regardless of the risk.

Today, due to changes in the mindset of our industry, we no
longer see these types of attitudes. Now, employee safety and the
protection of the environment are important, if not the most
important, issues that we deal with. Now that the entire industry
is focused on safety, it is up to each operator to figure out the
best way to accomplish the goal of operating accident free. As
Ben Franklin stated, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."

Although you may be interested in maintaining the safest work
environment possible, without a plan and effective leadership,
the goal is probably unachievable. Simply having a goal of
operating safely is not enough to set up the culture of safety
and the plan that is needed to successfully implement a safety
program. This culture must start at the top and embed itself into
the mindset of each and every employee working within the
company.

Out in Front

Leadership is critical to safety planning because our vessels and
crews operate under a wide variety of conditions, with crews that
operate beyond the office's ability to directly manage and
working with and around equipment that is capable of causing
significant damage to the crew, the vessel and the environment.
As such, communicating an effective "culture of safety" is the
cornerstone to the implementation of a safety plan. This culture
can only be effectively created through leadership.

All companies communicate a message that safety is important.
However, the difference between the companies that effectively
carry out this message in the field and the ones that do not is
leadership. This leadership must begin at the top and work its
way down through every level of the organization. This message
can be communicated through the usual channels including
policies, seminars, safety alerts, and training. However, none of
this will work if all employees in the company don't "buy into"
the program. This is where leadership setting the example is the
key.

Leaders set the tone for the entire organization. When boarding a
vessel, I customarily receive a detailed safety briefing from the
vessel's officer in charge of safety. This type of safety
briefing is necessary and conducted by all vessel owners and
operators in the industry. However, several clients that we work
with, based upon the vision of its leaders, take it to the next
level. When visiting the corporate offices of these companies, I
often receive a similar safety briefing where I am told what to
do in the case of an emergency, where the emergency exits are and
where my muster station was located.

I find it hard to imagine that a crewmember working on a vessel
does not believe that management takes safety seriously when the
office staff conducts safety briefings for all visitors. This
type of culture cannot be generated through the use of "catch
phrases" and public-relations campaigns. This type of culture can
only be filtered down from the top and understood by all
employees. The process can only be done through effective
leadership, the first stage in implementing an effective safety
plan.

Once management has committed to the implementation of a safety
culture, the next step is to design and implement a plan. Because
vessel operations can range from the operation of small crewboats
to enormous special purpose ships, that operate in local or
international waters and with different rules and regulations
that apply for each operator no single safety plan will work for
all companies. For example, Tidewater's safety management system
would not be feasible for a towing operator who owns three small
vessels.

Apples & Oranges

You can start formulating your plan by determining the plan
components that your operation requires. For larger vessels, the
requirement for achieving ISM Safety Management System
Certification provides an excellent blueprint for formalizing
your safety program. For tow boats and barge operators, the
American Waterways Operators' (AWO) Responsible Carrier Program
provides an easy to implement safety management plan that has
already been tailored for your segment of the industry. If you
are not up to speed with the applicable laws, regulations and
recommended practices, you may want to start the process by
meeting with your attorneys or a safety management consultant to
determine where to start.

The requirements for ISM certification and compliance with the
AWO's Responsible Carrier Program are similar and require
appropriate management, policies, vessel equipment, adequate crew
and an audit of the program to determine its effectiveness.
According to the ISM Code, each certified Safety Management
System must include: a commitment from management, a
comprehensive policy manual, a comprehensive procedures manual,
audit procedures, a dedicated employee who serves as an ombudsman
between the vessel crew and the office staff, a system for
identifying problems with implementation and regular management
reviews.

Once you have started the process of implementing the safety
culture and a workable plan, you are on the road to improving
your safety record. At that point, effective implementation will
be achieved by continued leadership and the effective management
of the plan.

The worst safety mistake that you can make is to have a safety
plan and then choose not to implement it or worse, just ignore
it. In the event that an accident occurs, the claimant's attorney
will request all of the documents related to your safety plan.
Having to admit that you didn't have a safety plan is a painful
event, but producing a plan that was ignored by either management
or the crew may prove to be worse and expose your company to an
excessive judgment.

It is important to note that the development of a safety culture
and the formulation and implementation of an effective plan takes
significant time and resources. This is a project that will
absorb significant resources without showing an immediate result.
However, if you stick with your program and continue to
communicate and manage the plan effectively, it will pay
significant dividends for your organization over the long term.
These long term benefits include an improved safety record, more
satisfied employees, operational savings due to less downtime and
an improved bottom line due to reduced insurance and claim
expenses.

The Author

Larry DeMarcay is a partner in the law firm of Fowler
Rodriguez Valdes-Fauli. His areas of practice include commercial
litigation, admiralty, personal injury, transportation, real
estate, construction and corporate law. Prior to attending law
school, DeMarcay served on the Washington based legislative staff
of Congressman Jimmy Hayes.

(As published in the February 2017 edition of
Marine News
)

Mar 7, 2017

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