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The crucial role of safety culture in maritime decarbonization and digitalization

A safety report from DNV and Lloyd’s List Intelligence finds incidents are rising and looks at the possible safety challenges of decarbonization and digitalization. The focus on establishing strong safety cultures for maritime is needed to navigate the big transformations underway successfully and safely.

“With great transformations underway, there is clearly a need to better understand the safety risks of technologies and operational methods being adopted for greater efficiency and lower emissions,” says Kirsten Strømsnes, Head of Section – Maritime Advisory at DNV. “Regulation can help, but maritime needs to embrace a top-to-bottom safety culture giving equal weight to managing Human, Organizational and Technological risk in what we call ‘the HOT approach’.”

Prerequisites for a safety-first transformation

Safety culture is the product of shared values, beliefs, and conscious and non-conscious ways of thinking that impact safety behaviour. 

A safety-first transformation hinges on a robust safety culture with strong safety leadership, a culture of trust and effective processes for competence development, incentives, knowledge sharing and proactive organizational learning. Setting safety goals that can act as safety barriers helps to balance out the commercial pressure employees often feel. 

Seafarers are vital to safety

“Safety only works if people are encouraged to be part of building the safety culture,” says Georg Giskegjerde, Senior Consultant in Human Factors at DNV Maritime. “Including seafarers in the HOT approach will shift our industry from being reactive to proactive about keeping employees, assets, the environment and the community safe from harm.

Vessel and company safety requires good leadership

The report calls for the inclusion of all stakeholders – from CEOs and boards to vessel masters and seafarers – in holistic initiatives focused on seafarer health in body, mind, nutrition and restfulness in a proactive attitude to safety culture. 

Good and effective leadership is committed in all eight dimensions of the safety culture framework, thus improving the safety culture of an organization or on a ship. 

“Effective leadership fosters a just culture rather than a blame culture and an environment where individuals do not fear making mistakes and do not conceal them. Instead, it promotes an atmosphere that embraces the opportunity to learn,” Giskegjerde explains. 

Leadership principles help to grow safety

Safety experts have established a series of leadership principles that have been designed to be dynamic and to evolve as safety expertise grows. They include good communication, leadership by example, reinforcing positive actions and making safety a corporate value. 

“Leaders that want to drive safety need to ensure incidents are thoroughly reviewed and steps taken to prevent avoidable recurrences. They need to create an environment that allows people to freely voice their concerns and ensure that employees at sea and onshore have a duty to care for each other,” Strømsnes emphasizes. “This goes far beyond the minimum requirements of the International Safety Management Code.”  

Achieving maritime safety competence

Competence – the abilities, knowledge, qualities and skills allowing people to perform tasks successfully – is essential to safety culture. 

Organizations need to exhibit safety and risk competence – the proficiency to understand and assess risk and to manage that risk – at all levels. 

“Our report makes it plain that competence is about more than skills and abilities within the traditional maritime disciplines on board,” Strømsnes explains. “It should also encompass elements assessed in a safety-culture evaluation. These include the skills to manage safety risks in operations and to ensure employees are trained properly in proactive safety risk management. Humans, organization and technology are integrated and must be seen in a holistic perspective rather than part by part.” 

For a safety culture to be effective, it is also important to have clear incentive mechanisms in place to encourage positive behaviour while discouraging negative behaviour. 

Collaboration and creative worry play into competence

The report serves as a reminder that a ship is only as strong as its weakest link. While design, construction, technical systems and manoeuvrability might be better than ever, it is a combination of crew and systems that must maintain safety. “Successful companies require individuals to work together, organizational units to join forces and even competitor businesses to explore ways to build bridges to ensure safety for seafarers,” Giskegjerde stresses.  

Among the big risks are reliance on procedures and forgetting to seek out deviations in repeated operations. The dimension of creative worry sharpens the eyes and keeps the mind alert to what might happen. “This way of thinking can be taught in simulators, training for different scenarios, adding deviations into the mix, instructing in ways to look for the unexpected,” Giskegjerde adds. 

Maritime safety gap analysis

Understanding the gap between how crew manage vessel operations now and what will be required of them in the future will become critical to ensuring competence throughout the transformation to advanced technologies. 

The report identifies two important questions in this regard. First, is the right competence in place to identify the safety risks? Second, will recruitment, selection, training and education result in the right people being on board? 

“The Management of Change process will need to identify risks and safety issues, then specify safety measures, including competence and training needs, before technological implementation,” Strømsnes says. “This is why, for example, DNV Maritime’s digitalization section includes safety considerations within the elements of the digital transformation roadmaps on which it is working with an increasing number of customers.” 

Resilience also plays a key role in these transformation processes, as it is the ability to handle a new situation and to return to normal as soon as possible. As a higher degree of resilience creates a demand for increasing empowerment at all levels and flexibility, the master will need to be a far better people-manager than in the past. 

Safety the key to maritime transformation

Maritime safety trends 2012–2022 is published at an appropriate moment as the industry introduces operational technologies and develops alternative fuels to help meet decarbonization targets. 

Digitalization brings undoubted benefits. It provides insights and, by enabling automation, can drive operational efficiencies and support the switch to alternative fuels to reduce emissions to target levels. However, and as the report makes plain, human judgement, expertise and decision-making will remain critical for effective but safe vessel operations. 

DNV supports the building of strong safety cultures across companies

“Our report’s findings and analysis leave no doubt that safety should be on a shipowner’s agenda right at the start when planning and designing technological innovations for decarbonizing either newbuilds or, through retrofitting, existing vessels,” concludes Strømsnes. “In DNV, we have developed an approach that we can apply to assess all the dimensions of a safety culture of a company and access the level of maturity to help each business to improve and to focus on what matters most for them.”  

DNV safety experts also assist in the implementation of a safety culture, from coaching managers to improving management systems and training. After some time, DNV provides a review to check the safety system and keep it dynamically updated to meet changing requirements. 

Building a safety culture from the start pays off

It is far better and more cost-effective to build in robust safety right from the beginning rather than laying the industry open to potentially life- and environment-threatening incidents in the decades ahead, when putting things right would be costlier, Strømsnes advises. 

She concludes: “To work proactively towards a mature safety culture within the drives towards digitalization and decarbonization is not an option but a prerequisite for success. The HOT perspective is part of such a culture.” 

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Kirsten Birgitte Strømsnes

Kirsten Birgitte Strømsnes

Business Development Leader - Safety

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Georg Giskegjerde

Georg Giskegjerde

Senior Consultant

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