Interview with Søren Vest, General Manager, Head of Marine QA, Ultraship
You have been working with implementation of Safety I’s in your organisation for 4-5 months. How has the process been, internally in Ultraship as well as the cooperation with Green-Jakobsen? What was your main focus?
It has been an eventful process that started in May 2014 between Green-Jakobsen and Ultraship in Denmark. As the first step we identified two focus issues: people and safety. And from the beginning it has been essential not to differentiate between office staff and seafarers.
As the next step we looked at the vision and mission to be formulated in line with our mother company in Chile. Because we wanted to incorporate safety right from the beginning our Ultraship company vision is now: High quality and competitive shipmanagement led by an embedded safety culture. In order to ensure a strong safety approach we involved Green-Jakobsen who contributed with good suggestions and tangible actions.
However, we did not want to start too many initiatives simultaneously so an important issue was to have our SMS system in place before starting a process with our staff and the management of ships. Hence, also our SMS system has been built to reflect a good safety culture. The point of departure for all initiatives is Green-Jakobsen’s Safety I’sTM and Accountability Ladder – two very important building blocks fundamental for the advice and tools we have received from Green-Jakobsen. This two-legged project was kicked-off at a two-day workshop at our office with Erik Green. Every department was asked to identify what their contribution should be. After that they have elaborated safety action plans each with 3-5 issues that are to be implemented by October this year.
What is the value for your company with this project?
It has clearly been an advantage for us to be able to start this work before we actually were in operation. So this is not a radical change from old ways of doing and we have no negative ballast in our cargo. The Safety I’sTM and the accountability ladder have brought us some good keywords such as ‘stepping up’ and ‘stepping down’ and a common (safety) language for all staff in the company fundamental for our safety culture.
It is clearly a value for us – when we introduce ourselves to customers – that we can easily explain our safety culture, and although safety is a focus issue for every player in the market we think that we are more ‘aggressive’ and proactive. Towards oil majors we have been able to express what we actually do without ‘safety culture’ being a fluffy word. One rather demanding oil major praised that we take safety so seriously and that they would like to have come this far in the safety culture development process themselves. We are sure to maintain a close and good safety dialogue with them.
Also the common language among our staff is an important value. To begin with the staff feared that this safety culture process would generate more work processes. Therefore we stressed that it is more or less business as usual, only now we all speak the same language in the already defined working processes.
When one of our inspectors was to board a ship for docking he was not sure how to practically implement the use of Safety I’s. Therefore, before his assignment we went through all the Safety I’s and related them to the inspection he was going to make, e.g. innovation – it is ok to consider new alternatives, intervention – you must intervene whenever you see something unsafe – and it is ok, integration – take all staff groups into consideration: office, dock workers, classification companies, etc. When he was on board he was prepared to hold a safety meeting where everybody was introduced to Safety I’s.
How exactly are you using these values in your everyday work?
The workshops led by Green-Jakobsen introducing the Safety I’s and Accountability ladder included subjects such as Office staff as safety culture carriers, Defining good safety behaviours, Safety Leadership (including leadership tools and safety action plans) and Accountability towards safety. These subjects provided us with a range of initiatives enabling us to develop the safety culture we want to achieve in Ultraship and Ultragas.
Our office staff has been the first target; we have not yet had many activities on board but we plan to introduce safety ambassadors among the crew – and this will NOT be the captain who is not necessarily the obvious person for this task. However, this will be the 2nd phase of the implementation. Our first safety action plans are being implemented now and will run until November. Then new safety action plans will be prepared for the next period, including the safety ambassadors on board.
In our procedure all sections are related to Safety I’s making concrete examples for every ‘I’. For example it is perfectly ok for a deck officer to intervene and stop the captain or the pilot making a wrong manoeuvre. This ensures that the users see the actual meaning of the ‘I’s and the procedures.
We are now gathering experience from our activities implemented on board our first ship. Until 2016 we will increase our fleet with a considerable number of vessels and we will plan for an implementation process on board these new vessels.
Green-Jakobsen participated at our officer seminar in Manila in May and the Safety I’s and Accountability ladder and matrix were presented to our seafarers. The accountability matrix will be used in the evaluation of the seafarers’ performance. According to the matrix we will focus on 1) the impact (positive or potential risk) of the employee activities, 2) the frequency of positive (or negative) initiatives and 3) conduct, demonstration of understanding and acting according to the Ultraship safety competencies.
What is the reaction from the staff and seafarers?
Generally we get positive feedback. In fact our safety culture is in play already during the job interview. We simply ask the applicants to explain how they will contribute to Ultraship’s safety culture. The reaction has been varying, but it has been educative for us and we have got a lot of good ideas. Almost all have acknowledged that safety was an integral part of the employment process.
A few employees still think that this is somewhat dangerous grounds, but on the other hand I am very engaged myself, so much that I think about it even in my spare time and use the I’s in a lot of situations. I would now intervene in situations where I would tend not to do anything before. It is perfect that this can be part of general behaviour, but of course here we have our main focus on our work situations.
Our associated company, Ultragas is also interested in our project and the intention is that they be part of it at a later stage. The important thing is that Ultraship is now learning and our experiences will be useful for the other companies so that we can make it easy and attractive to work with safety.
Can you give us more examples of how you use the Green-Jakobsen Safety I’s?
We have carried out the first appraisals of our office staff in Ultraship where we evaluated staff performance in relation to Safety I’s and the Safety I’s are part of the action plans for performance improvements, specifically looking at Insight, Intervention, Innovation, etc. It has been an interesting process. The same process will be adopted for crew performance evaluation.
Two large posters have been produced to help us maintain a common understanding, focus and safety language. Here at the office we have placed them on the backside of the toilet doors – as we did with the safety and security instructions on board in the old days. We will do the same on board and our first ship has already received the posters.
Since the first action plans are now running out we are preparing the ones to follow. People actively contribute and the intention is to make Safety I’s and accountability part of the induction of new employees, the ship audits and safety meetings on board. They are also part of our competency platform, and even the chemical substitution has got a safety twist. People can influence what chemicals must be available and we are open for innovative ideas in this field as well.
Management must make sure that a management representative visit a ship once every month and at our next officer seminar safety will be the red thread in the entire agenda – not a separate item – so that anything we discuss or present must be related to Safety I’s and accountability ladder.
Interest from outside
Various tanker shipping companies are focusing a lot on safety culture. With the support from Green-Jakobsen and with our safety mindset we feel that we can contribute with our way of doing and many are interested in hearing what we have to say. Another thing is that we receive a lot of applications from people who want to work for Ultraship because we have a strong profile on safety. Our will to work intensively with safety culture stems from the top management and throughout the organisation. But we have to be consistent and not allow ourselves to slacken our language or behaviour. Therefore the Safety I’s and accountability are part of all written material so we meet them all the time.
We constantly talk about ‘stepping up’ and ‘stepping down’ – it suits us well to say it that way. You do not scold somebody by saying: “I think you are stepping down a bit!” – this is actually intervention.
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