Is a long period of no accidents or incidents equal to strong safety performance? No! it may even conceal where the real problems are.
Safety Performance is mostly measured in “Lost Time Incidents Frequency” (LTIF) by using statistics about the number of incidents per 1 million working hours. What does this measurement tell us about the actual safety performance? Is a long period of no-accidents or incidents equal to strong safety performance?
Some vessels show good performance statistics but they generally have a poor safety culture on board. In this case the potential for a serious accident is much higher than with other vessels that have a strong safety culture but have had a couple of minor incidents that ruined their performance statistics.
The problem is that the reactive measurement of accident statistics has very little predictive value towards the future safety performance, it does not show particular areas of weakness and does not provide any information on the actual safety culture on board and thus there is a potential for a serious accident in the future.
If we just look at the past result when it comes to accidents our mindset is reactive and we will narrow our focus on how to avoid the same accident in the future. The development or improvement of safety becomes more like a “fire fighting” mechanism and often there is very little connection between the different safety improvement initiatives launched by the company. Initiatives tend to be focused on practical and tangible matters such as adjustment or changes to systems, procedures or equipment and much less on the actual behaviour patterns that are the core of a healthy safety culture.
In other words; the reactive measurement of safety performance in a “no-accidents” result can be a barrier for development of a safety culture, which eventually will ensure a more sustainable improvement of the safety performance.
If we want to have an idea of the future safety performance we need to assess the safety culture and maturity of the company as a basis for introducing targeted development initiatives.
The safety maturity of a company describes both the company safety performance capabilities and how consolidated these capabilities are to ensure a consistent safety performance. A high safety maturity level will foster a strong safety culture that again will support the consistency and sustainability of the company safety performance.
The safety maturity of a company arises from the ability to transform external as well as internal requirements into safety strategies and objectives, and how well these targets are converted into actions. The effect of this effort is seen in typical safety behaviour that constitute the actual safety culture and performance.
Assessing the safety maturity is done by investigating the key day-to-day work processes, typical behaviour (Both ship and shore) and the extent to which these are encouraged by direction and leadership, and further supported by an effective and flexible safety organisation and management system.
Measuring the safety maturity and culture also provides a view on the leading indicators of the safety performance which can serve as on-going metrics for preventive factors that affect safety.
By repeating the assessment at a later stage, a possible effect of the safety improvement efforts and initiatives can be derived and used in the process of defining new strategies and objectives.
The assessment of safety maturity is done through a mix of surveys and interviews. The quantitative results from a survey provide a basis for qualitative inputs from the interviews, and in combination they make a picture of how the safety theories and methods are understood and applied in the everyday work.
Employees are encouraged to describe their experience related to safety in the company and their everyday work tasks. In the office as well as on board the difference between the perceptions and practical approaches to the work across ranks and positions reveals to what extent procedures are followed, and it shows the level of safety knowledge and the general safety belief associated to the different work tasks.
The rating scale of five steps is widely used in the industry and it provides a clear description of the different maturity levels. Based on more than 20 years of experience and research in this field Green-Jakobsen has identified 10 areas that have important impact on the safety culture and performance. In our assessment of these 10 areas we compare the variances between vessels and offices, between different positions and make an overall evaluation of what is the most probable level for the company. This way the safety maturity is an expression on how well the safety will be handled in most cases, not only in the top performing ships.
Most employees rate the company safety maturity level to be between 3 and 4 but in our assessments we often find that companies lie lower than this due to the fact that the safety efforts do not embrace all employees (this goes for both seafarers and shore based staff), which make “weak links” in the safe work approach.
Also in many companies the general perception of safety development is that this is the responsibility of a safety department or safety officer, not a responsibility shared by all. A strong safety culture is made by the in-depth understanding of the risks and a true belief that there is always a better and safer way.
So the most sustainable way to develop the safety performance is by stimulating the safety culture. If you want to use a measurement of safety progress, which has predictive value towards the future safety performance, you should use leading indicators for the safety culture such as safety competence levels, safe work assessment and/or safety improvement initiatives.
To make a safety culture development initiative more effective it should address all four organisational drivers in the ‘The Performance ButterflyTM model. Therefore Green-Jakobsen recommends to work on the ten focused and targeted key areas as listed below.
Select and prioritize 3-4 key areas or elements to develop at first. This prevents the pitfall of overlooking some of the organisational development drivers in the process. It also makes it easier to manage the necessary follow up and evaluation of the changes and efforts that are crucial to ensure real embedment of the safety culture development initiatives.
Based on industry research and best practice combined with years of own experience working with assessment and development of safety cultures, Green-Jakobsen has defined ten key safety elements that are most important for creating a sustainable safety culture:
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