What’s a safety culture?

Collision Aftermath

“A safety culture encompasses the commonly held perceptions and beliefs of an organization’s members pertaining to the public’s safety and can be a determinant of the behaviour of the members. A healthy safety culture relies on a high degree of trust and respect between personnel and management and must therefore be created and supported at the senior management level.” – International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)

What?! I thought we were talking about ships – at least that picture up there is of a burning ship, isn’t it?  Well, like many safety concepts, such as bridge resource management growing out of cockpit resource management in the aviation world, many concepts of safety are universal.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a ship, an airplane, a factory in Detroit or a farm in Iowa, they all have institutional cultures and part of that is the safety culture.

At this point, we are merely talking about definitions.  What actually encompasses a safety culture is far reaching and, literally, a topic of books upon books.  Where does this take us?  Check out the report below from the oil and gas industry and then the links further down.  Yes, it can be dry, but it’s much, much more than a buzzword.  In the end, it’s not about psychology, but about biology.   Read on.

Strengthening the Safety Culture of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry : Transportation Research Board

Before you pass up the above report, read this quote from it, “…Responsible companies and progressive regulators realize the need to go beyond regulatory compliance by embracing safety in a holistic manner.”  

This concept is important to the maritime industry as a whole.  Regulations are in place to ensure a minimum safety standard.  Yes, going beyond the regulations in terms of building, manning, equipping, maintaining and operating a vessel is costly.  But aren’t incidents (groundings, collisions, fire, sinking, personal injury) expensive in and of themselves?

Any business will calculate the breakeven point of an investment.  Perhaps the P&I Club costs are less than the initial costs of going beyond the minimum regulations, but what of the intangibles?  BP (British Petroleum) and Exxon would probably tell you that preventing the explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon or the grounding of the Exxon Valdez would have been far preferable than the alternative.  The cost to a company’s reputation in the day of the 24-hour news cycle can be tremendous.

Let’s be safe out there.

Additional Reading and Links

Isle of Man – Ostende Max/Formosaproduct Brick Collision – August 2009

  • What’s the relevance of this accident report?  For one, it’s the source of the photo above and it highlights what happens when a safety culture is weak.  Read the report and note the part about having a serious atmosphere when the master was on the bridge, but much more (too?) casual when he wasn’t.  This indicates that there was lip service being paid to the safety culture promoted by the master.

ABS – Guidance Notes on Safety Culture and Leading Indicators of Safety

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