A favourite phrase we often use when speaking with our clients is: ‘The good thing about our job is that we get to visit really many companies and we therefore get to experience many different but also identical challenges’. The reason for us using the phrase so often is; 1) because it is true and 2) because we get to see when safety performance initiatives stick and when they don’t. This article will try to come up with a plausible answer to the following question: What can organisations do to ensure that their efforts to build a more resilient safety culture are embedded and sustained?

Embedding and sustaining

Nothing lasts forever so isn’t it naive to claim that something as fluid and dynamic as a safety culture can be sustained at a certain level? After all, ship crews and conditions change all the time and our mental focus and awareness is constantly being drawn towards other aspects in life than towards safety.

The problem is that no organisation can accept that something as important as safety is left to chance and the efforts they take should not be in vain. Initiatives without effect are basically a waste of time and money, so for this reason, it is worth understanding what makes initiatives work and stick.

Initiatives without effect are basically a waste of time and money

The answer to this question is not always simple but for Green-Jakobsen we have two very important focus areas we always keep an eye on when helping companies develop their safety performance:

1. Embedding – The process of ensuring movement in behaviour (effect) and
2. Sustaining – The processes of continuously assessing, discussing and adjusting safety performance

Embedding is a movement in behaviour

For Green-Jakobsen the first rule is that we wish to achieve a movement in behaviour. We speak of this  as the effect we wish to see. We don’t design safety programmes just to introduce paper strategies, five-year (unrealistic) master plans, shiny booklets, posters, power point courses, highflying words and fluffy objectives (all these efforts we call deliverables). Programme deliverables support development but they don’t necessarily trigger a behavioural movement.

We all know the old phrase ‘Commitment from top’ and in any safety programme top management commitment is still important. However, it is not Green-Jakobsen’s perception that top management deliberately show lack of commitment or are unwilling to engage in safety. On the contrary, top management’s intentions are good in most of the projects Green-Jakobsen are involved in. They are committed, allocate funds, try to show visible leadership and acknowledge the need for change.

Top management often lack the understanding of how to embed and sustain change

But despite all these positives the problem that often remains is that top management lack the ability/ understanding of how to embed and sustain change. Top management typically struggle within the following 3 areas;

1. Driving – The process of helping their employees transform high flying safety principles, words, visions and ideas such as employee proactiveness, intervention, assertiveness etc. into specific
behaviour while at work.
2. Persistency – Understanding how long time it takes and how many times the need for a changed behaviour must be addressed often evaporates when other matters enter top management’s
agenda. Management must keep a behavioural movement on the agenda and persistently challenge the achieved effect.
3. Methods – Behavioural movement is not a mechanical process. It is not equal to changing an engine part. Engines don’t speak, have habits, opinions, possess feelings and moods – they have a
limited function. Humans require the fulfilment of multiple interpersonal needs and help to develop. Methods to stimulate a behavioural movement at all organisational levels must be understood
and shown by top management.

Explain the employees what it means

To help companies (and top management) overcome these difficulties, Green-Jakobsen’s biggest focus is to help top management explain to their employees how each employee can move towards the specific, desired work-related (safety) behaviour. To illustrate our point, we have prepared the table below showing examples of how guiding behaviour patterns (Green-Jakobsen Safety I’s) are ‘translated’ into specific employee behaviour and thereby make it easier for both management and employees to understand the desired behavioural movement.

But before we go into details let us first have a look at what could be a top management’s safety vision:

Here in company ‘Safe Sailing’ it is our safety vision to ensure an open, trusting and collaborating culture where all employees respectfully and constructively live the Safety I’s.

The beauty about this kind of statement is that no one tends to disagree for the simple reason that it won’t pass the ‘Not test’;  We do not want an open, trusting and collaborating culture where all employees respectfully and constructively live the Safety I’s. Creating safety visions is merely a semantic exercise. It does not create behavioural movement per se.

Guiding (and high-level) behaviour
– the five Safety I’s
Examples of specific behaviour to be embedded on board during work
– in this case to perform risk management






  • Hazard identification – Every seaman involved in a specific work task shall identify one or more hazards, describe them and explain how these can be mitigated (Insight, Integration, Influence)
  • Toolbox Talk – Every person involved explains what he or she shall do during work to manage and mitigate identified hazards and risks (Insight)
  • Situational awareness and understanding – While at work crew involved in the work only discuss work related matters and will intervene if something is not correct (Integration, Intervention)
  • Debriefing – Every crew member, who were involved in the work task, highlights what he/she felt 1) went well and should be done again next time and 2) what did not go so well and should be avoided in the future (Innovation)


The beauty of having specific employee behaviour examples is that both leaders and subordinates can understand better what is expected of them. The probability of behavioural movement in the desired direction thereby increases.

However, we must also look at this issue from a departmental perspective, focusing on the actual work process to take place and to what degree appropriate safety behaviour is lived during the work tasks designated to each department.

Department Work process integration
  • To what degree do training initiatives integrate a proper reference to risk management stimulating the behavioural movement? (Integration)
  • Does the training provided stimulate the movement towards the desired behaviour
  • When the procurement department is asked to purchase PPE, to what degree do they check that the purchased equipment is fit for purpose before buying e.g. 2000 pairs of safety shoes? (Integration, Influence)
  • After purchasing e.g. boiler suits does the purchase department ever call any crew members to hear if the boiler suits were good? (Innovation, Insight)
  • To what degree does the purchase department ensure that chemicals, paints and other substances are the least hazardous for human health? (Innovation)
  • During on board technical management operations to what degree does office staff ask questions to the crew about their focus on safety? (Influence, Integration and potentially Insight and Intervention)
  • Do they ask open-ended questions to trigger the officers to explain what they are doing? (Insight, Influence, Integration)
  • In crew changes, does the crew department ensure that seafarer travel plans are arranged so that the seafarer arrives at the vessel in good condition and thereby ready and fit to perform their jobs? (Integration, Influence)
  • Is the appraisal process designed in a manner that promotes a proper talk and evaluation of the crews’ safety performance? (Integration, Influence, Insight)
  • To what degree does a structured and effective development of crew safety behaviour and competencies take place? (Integration, Insight)
  • Is the HSEQ department focused on procedures and checklists or do they also understand how to develop and embed appropriate behaviour, accountability and safety leadership?
  • Is the HSEQ department capable of translating high-level safety principles (proactiveness, assertiveness, communication, etc.) into employee behaviour (see table above)?  (Influence, Insight)
  • To what degree do operators (with an overriding commercial interest) communicate towards the vessels that they integrate safety considerations in their operational directions? (Integration, Influence)


Sustaining performance requires on-going reflection, evaluation and adjustment – performed by those doing the actual job

Far too long a (more or less) articulated belief has been that safety precautionary measures prepared in an office, sometimes hundreds of kilometres away from the vessels is how we keep our seafarers safe. The (naïve) belief behind this approach is that if only they would follow the procedures everyone would be okay. To understand the grotesqueness of this belief, try and read the following situations:

On board the vessel ‘Safe Sailing’ the company has ensured that the crew has the best mooring procedure in the world, logically structured describing all the lessons learnt from other mooring operations and easy to read. The company has instructed the seafarers to understand the procedure and the crew has done their best to do so. But while involved in a mooring operation the crew experience the following conditions: It’s raining, two of the crew members are wearing glasses and finding it difficult to see much, from the terminal some very bright lights are blinding their view and the officer in change is suffering from fatigue. Two of the crew members have never worked together before and on top of that, one of the AB’s involved is angry after a discussion with one of superior officers. Do you think that the procedure will prevent that these factors influence the safety of the crew? 

The answer to the question is of course a very loud ‘NO’. The only way that the crew will remain safe (and sustain all the good intensions of the company) are the on-going reflections, evaluations and adjustments made by the crew regardless of the procedure. When the map (procedure) doesn’t reflect the landscape (reality) it is the landscape that decides the actions. If vessel crews are incapable of managing the risks that occur ‘as they go along’, what was believed to be safe operations (at the office) can end up as a catastrophe.

To sustain high performance any idea or behaviour must be discussed, evaluated and adjusted on a regular basis and since our topic is safety, we need to address it before anything goes wrong. As stated earlier, safety cultures are dynamic, fluid and continuously changing, and to manage them safely reflective human minds are required.

Safety cultures are dynamic, fluid and continuously changing, and to manage them safely reflective human minds are required

Reality will show itself, but it takes a mind to make judgements about it. But a judgement is only strong if it contains ‘effective mind-controls’ which is the result of a process of enquiry and interpretation that goes beyond the freak and unverified thought of an individual. The road from perception to appropriate interpretation of a situation (such as the one in the example above) can be short and fast, or long and windy, but if it contains ‘effective mind-controls’ the probability of having a proper grip on the truth increases.

Therefore, to sustain a resilient safety performance the process of continuously discussing, evaluating and adjusting behaviour is key. To support these processes ‘effective mind-controls’ are to be understood and performed by any employee involved in (and thereby influencing the result of) the work process. Proper judgements of reality require ‘effective mind-controls’

Effective mind-controls

The upside of the mind-control challenge is that life within a shipping company offers us numerous formal and informal opportunities to discuss our safety performance. Some of these opportunities can be seen in the table below, but many more exist.

Situation Description
Leaders observe behaviour and provide feedback
  • All human beings make behavioural observations but are we capable of discussing our observations in a constructive and forward directed manner? For leaders this capability is even more important to possess and should therefore become an integral part of any safety development programme
Employee appraisal process
  • Green-Jakobsen often meets companies where the appraisal of an employee’s safety performance is still a ‘Safety Awareness 1 to 5’ assessment with no proper dialogue or follow up
Work process debriefing
  • In many other ‘hazard heavy’ organisations (Airlines, Military, Hospital surgery, etc.) work process debriefs is an integral part of the job and they do it not only when something goes wrong. They also do it to discuss what they should do more of – because it works
Safety Delta
  • Green-Jakobsen’s Safety Delta triggers continuous reflection on own and others’ safety performance and takes place before anything goes wrong
On-going safety communication about safety behaviour during work
  • Far too often incident investigations highlights root causes such as: poor communication, loss of situational awareness, behavioural shortcuts, lack of knowledge sharing or assertiveness and the only way to combat these shortcomings is to continuously address them.
Formal safety competence development process
  • Movement of (safety) behaviour requires continuous focus. People come and go and within the shipping business crew (teams) change all the times and therefore under constant change. A formal approach towards the desired development of the company (safety) behaviour therefore has to undergo a continuous formal process.


Behavioural movement is possible!

Nothing comes for free nor does a company’s desired employee (safety) behaviour. But the experience, research and results of Green-Jakobsen show that behavioural movement is possible. In this respect it is important to underlinethe importance of the organisations ability to define, prepare and drive embedding and sustaining processes. This article has tried describing how to embed and sustain the behaviour desired for.

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Erik Green
Erik Green
Managing Director and Partner

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