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We don´t compete on safety

Nothing is more important on board a cruise ship than safeguarding the lives of the people and arriving at the destination without a safety incident. Proactive thinking, advanced technology, a reliable flow of information and close cooperation across the industry are key success factors.

Being in charge of all safety-related management systems of the world’s second-largest cruise line operator is not an easy task. You need an eye for the big picture as much as for the details that complicate daily life; you need a well-defined organizational structure to support the full range of activities from drafting procedures and training staff to performing audits and interacting effectively with your partners and stakeholders across the industry; and you need a deep understanding of the most important factor in the safety equation: people.

Tracy Murrell, VP Maritime Safety, DPA at Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL), has a leitmotif: the human factor. “Our highest priority is recruiting the right people, giving them proper training, the right tools, the right competency and the right procedures. We aim to engineer-out the human interaction so that the crew can monitor and intervene as necessary; we want to free them up to have better situational awareness.”

Typical human behaviour patterns are complacency and normalizing deviance, says the safety expert. This goes for both the people on board and on shore: “In the end we are all part of an incident when it happens, and we all have to look at ourselves and ask: ‘What role did we play in this, and what could we have done to prevent it?’ We must take that inward look as a company rather than pointing the finger at the fleet.”

Choosing purely technical remedies is the wrong approach, says Murrell: “We should look beyond the operator and scrutinize the systems they operate, the ergonomics, the workplace design, the functionality, the humans who programmed the systems, designed the layout of the bridge and engine control room, or potentially overloaded the watch stander with too much information for people to process. And we must continue developing our skills for managing complexity.” Modern cognitive neuroscience can help, Murrell notes: “We need to better apply that to the design of systems, working together with system designers and putting the right procedures in place to mitigate risks.”

The right approach to audits

Audits are an important means to keep track of the safety culture on board. “Our auditors are an incredible resource for us. It is through them that we get a feel for what is going on in the fleet,” says Murrell. “We have changed our approach to internal audits: instead of just conducting an interview and inspection and writing up nonconformities and findings, our auditors now provide support and educate the crews where there might be a gap in knowledge or skill. This way we bring people along on our journey rather than just criticize – an approach that has been received well by the fleet.”

As for external audits, says Captain John Chrysostom, Principal Lead Auditor at DNV GL, the time constraint is a limiting factor: “The audit focus areas are chosen after discussions with the various brand presidents, prior to the office audits. Since we audit more than 100 seafarers, we have to restrict the number of focus areas to about two.” An audit plan sent to the crew ahead of time specifies the planned activities for the audit so the crew can prepare for it: “Ultimately it is all about increasing awareness on board.” To that end, suggests Tracy Murrell, it would be great to be able to make key insights transparent for the entire fleet at all times. “Information drives behaviour. Everybody should see the existing challenges at all times so they can shift focus accordingly.” A concept that could be realized using modern communication technology. “Our current digitalization efforts aim to use more data-driven tools to guide our safety initiatives and enable transparent communication with the fleet, getting safety information out as quickly as possible so that action can be taken and awareness is heightened.” Examples include safety training and information apps, videos, 3D graphics, and virtual reality, she adds.

Learning from past incidents is crucial to keep ships and people out of harm’s way. By interpreting data from RCL’s fleetwide accident reporting system, the company can identify trends, understand behavioural patterns and derive proactive safety measures. But including information from the entire industry would multiply these benefits. “I would like to see much more cooperation among the industry members on safety – flag, class, the companies, even Port State Control,” emphasizes Murrell.

As an industry we should never compete on safety, says John Chrysostom, adding: “We need to institutionalize our knowledge sharing.” The airline industry’s Aviation Safety Action Programme (ASAP) can serve as a model, Tracy Murrell points out: “We are already working with aviation companies to learn from them.” What can get in the way is that “we don’t always all speak the same language regarding what we are capturing,” she notes. “Our industry needs to agree on a common language and common parameters for reporting this information, and modify its systems accordingly. Class could play an important role in this.“

A partnership for safety

Aggregating and correlating data from company databases, audit, accident and near-miss reports, DNV GL’s industry-wide data and other sources could guide the industry to the areas to focus on, says Tracy Murrell. “Everyone in the industry would benefit.” DNV GL supports these efforts on many levels, redefining the way class and operators work together. The upgraded DNV GL ECO Insight fleet performance management platform, for example, allows data to be shared without compromising privacy interests.

DNV GL also offers an innovative approach to safety management system (SMS) certification featuring customer-specific Fitfor-purpose audits and combined certification packages for ISM, ISPS, MLC 2006, as well as ISO 9001, ISO 14001, OHSAS 18001, and ISO 50001. The Fit-for-purpose partnership improves the effectiveness of audits, surveys and inspections and reduces verification pressure and operation disruptions by utilizing synergies from overlapping requirements.

“DNV GL wants the customers and their crews to grow,” explains John Chrysostom. “When we, as auditors, leave the ship and can say we have raised the level of safety, environment protection and compliance, we have done our job.”

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Georg Smefjell

Georg Smefjell

Group Leader Management Systems/ Senior Principal Specialist

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