Shipping is all about people as this week will go a long way to proving. The annual gathering at CMA is a prime example of what shipping does best in terms of talking, networking and partying. The fact that this is happening against a backdrop of improving rates and seemingly ready money, should make for some entertaining moments and perhaps some serious learning too.

And again this year, there will be a focus on the mariner, not just through the tireless work of Intermanager and others, but because the evening entertainment includes a screening of the film “A Hijacking”, a far more accurate depiction of happens before, during and after an incident than anything Hollywood can come up with.

What I also hope to hear about this week, in addition to plenty of news of technology, is more about the human factor and how the two elements are converging. This is not just for reasons of efficiency but to encourage the spread of a safety culture that protects both people and assets. When that happens, it is little surprise to learn that efficiency soon follows.

Just as asset optimization and environmental compliance have become key topics in marine and offshore, the roles played by people and corporate functions in fostering a successful safety culture are a critical concern. The study of safety and human factors includes ergonomics and habitability for mariners as well as research that aims to further improve safety on board.

Class society ABS is among those furthering collaborative research into safety on board ship and offshore assets. Its Mariner Personal Safety project works to source and share safety related information gathered from shipping industry partners and is identifying causal factors of close calls (also known as near-misses) and reported incidents, as well as proposing standardized close call and incident reporting to improve benchmarking and bring greater transparency to incident investigation.

The primary aim in collecting and analysing safety performance information is to help identify best practices for close call and incident reporting to help reduce or eliminate future occurrences. The MPS project itself sprang from contacts and conversations with safety directors and vice presidents of US ship owning and operating companies in the National Safety Council’s Waterborne Transport Group. The discussions identified a need to develop a database of incidents which could be used to identify commonly-recurring safety themes and opportunities for improvement.

The ISM Code already requires owners to track injuries and close calls so the question that needed to be answered was whether these companies would pool the information they had already collected. The MPS project now holds more than 40,000 injury and close call records, drawn from over 1,100 ships and 37,000 mariners, numbers which are constantly increasing.

The aim of the database is to identify trends and enable some benchmarking based on actual reports with subsequent sharing of reported corrective actions and lessons learned by owners and operators. Critically, the sharing is not ring-fenced and goes beyond project partners to include the wider industry. 

Reports include corrective actions, lessons learned and ergonomic discussion papers, normally a 5-10 page write-up on a unique topic, such as heat or cold stresses, near misses, design and means of access, crew fatigue, noise, vibration and vision.

A key factor is that reports are written in layman’s terms and are designed to be read by the people that will benefit most from them. They are aimed at the mariners since they are face to face with these issues daily and can be used to improve their learning, understand the different terms, what issues they should look out for and some potential corrective actions.

From there a shipping company can design safety auditing procedures and move towards development of safety resources and training that reduce such incidents. This commonly takes the form of Hazard Control Techniques, which aim to eliminate, attenuate (reduce the hazard through engineering controls or be substitution efforts) or administrate safety issues, including personal protective equipment.

By focusing on safety issues during the vessel design phase, potential problems can be eliminated. In-service risk can be attenuated by taking practical steps, modifications such as added lighting or signage. Administrative controls seek to address issues through safety meetings, additional procedures or training.

Participation in the MPS project and provision of close call or injury data grants the partners access to the data which is protected by non-disclosure agreements and is sanitised to protect confidentiality. However, the system encourages feedback as an important part of the process with suggestions for improvement encouraged.

A parallel project, known as Safety Culture and Leading Indicators of Safety is helping industry partners perform safety culture audits and improve internal safety practices. The project will also serve the wider industry by making generic findings available to help improve safety and augment safety management systems.

Both projects are being extended into the Mariner Safety Research Center, an online public resource created in partnership with Lamar University of Beaumont, Texas, to increase sharing of safety data among owners which are developing or refining their own safety best practices. 

Bringing the MPS and Safety Culture and Leading Indicators projects into a combined online resource means that that potentially more data can be captured that can feed into safety for seafarers through the application of standardised procedures and improved ergonomics. 

To an industry in the throes of a big data revolution, such projects play an important part in ensuring that we collectively continue to focus on safety at a time when investments are being made that will play such a central role in the working lives of the mariners on whom we depend.


Author: Neville Smith who is Director of Mariner Communications and blogs about IT and communications at

Source BIMCO