Are we strangling initiative, even seamanship, with red tape? It is a good point, raised by the maritime Director of the Confidential Hazardous Incident Reporting Programme (CHIRP) in his latest “feedback”. Captain John Rose writes of an instance where a boatswain discovered broken “U” bolts on a cable pipe rack running on the main deck of a ship. They had clearly been broken for some time, as they had been covered over with paint, but nobody had bothered to tell anyone about the deficiency. With the likelihood of heavy seas falling on them, there was clearly a risk that something worse could have had its root in this small, but important repair need.

He asks whether the chore of paperwork actually has become self-defeating in that it becomes too much trouble to report the problem. Once, a capable seaman would use his own initiative to fix something that was well within his capability of fixing. Or he would have told the Mate, who would have instructed somebody simply to repair the broken part, and hopefully checked that the job had been satisfactorily completed.

But it could be that some ships now have such complex systems of reporting and “non-compliances” that something that would take five minutes work with a screwdriver or marline spike, will require half an hour of paperwork. It might be reprehensible, but a good deal easier to ignore the breakage.

Maybe somebody else will see it and do the necessary!
An analogy might be in law enforcement, where the bureaucracy has been blamed for police turning a blind eye to crimes, if they are not that serious.

Captain Rose puts it rather well when he says “every day there are many eyes looking at the ship’s equipment and yet many are blind to what is around them. It could well be that the “over-bureaucratisation” of ordinary shipboard maintenance has become the reason why people are apparently ignoring warnings.

He suggests that rather than something that is regarded as either a nuisance or a reason for red tape, deficiencies and maintenance needs should be regarded as “learning events” and actively encouraged. The fact that something has worn, or broken, or required replacement is something that can be discussed at a safety meeting and might even be the subject of a reward scheme aboard ship. They can be regarded as “near misses” and seen as a positive advantage that they were picked up before something bad happened.

Any experienced boatwain, let alone the Mate, will tell anyone who asks that it is far better to pick up a deficiency early, before something that is worn, finally breaks. It is financially advantageous, too, even though the accountants might be complaining about the expenditure on spares. Experience, says Captain Rose in the latest CHIRP Maritime Feedback, shows that “learning events” will often result in saving the owner money. But best not to discourage the “learners” with undue levels of paper reporting. It shouldn’t be a chore.

Author: The Watchkeeper                       Source: BIMCO