It is not the rules that prevent accidents but the seafarers
Minimising the burden of maritime administration requires international understanding. It is not all the rules and forms that create a safe, healthy working environment but the behaviour of seafarers, points out Chief Inspector of the Danish Maritime Authority, Lars Gerhard Nielsen.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the shipping industry knows that the volumes of paper- work are growing. Forms have to be completed and boxes ticked to satisfy the authorities at every level, and especially customers.
This is confirmed by a project ”Mental attrition in officers on Danish vessels as a result of external requirements”. This project was launched to investigate and analyse the options for reducing administrative tasking in the shipping industry.
“It was no surprise to find growing volumes of paperwork. On the other hand, the diffe- rence in so many of authorities’ requirements from port to port did surprise us. That is a really heavy administrative burden in addition to customer requirements which in some cases go further than the legislation requires,” admits Lars Gerhard Nielsen, who took part in the project.
The culture must change
“At the Danish Maritime Authority, we are interested in changing the compliance culture that is widespread in the industry and among authorities. This means a culture in which documentation for compliance with the regulations is the most important issue without considering the practicalities of working on health and safety in daily routines,” he explains.
“The requirement for docu- mentation may be seen as lack of trust in seafarers but then it is not the rules or safety systems that prevent accidents on board or on voyage. It is the seafarers. Safe operations are down to their behaviour,” emphasises Lars Gerhard Nielsen.
He supports his claim with experience gained by the Danish Maritime Authority over the past 5-6 years in changing inspection practice. Whereas the focus used to be on compliance with the rules and technical regulations and on correctly completed paperwork, the focus has now switched to how seafarers consi- der safety in their daily routines. From rule dialogue to safety dialogue. Without slackening technical controls.
This change has been well received on board and Lars Gerhard Nielsen would like to see the method introduced internationally.
“It is a way of thinking and working that is supported by research in the area. A piece of paper prevents no accidents.”
The approach must change “The industry has a traditional way of thinking about maritime safety which is not easy to change even though we have seen progress in recent years. But then, international and national legislation continues to increase. New environmental requirements lead to new regulations and new forms to be completed and checked, so administration will undoubtedly always be part of the industry.
That should not keep us from trying to limit the amount of administration by drawing attention to the problem at all the international and national maritime meetings we attend - including the customers so that they do not make unnecessary demands for safety systems but concentrate on how their require- ments are tackled on board.”
On the agenda
“There is no clear answer to whether the project has led to a reduction in administrative burdens in the industry.
The most important result is probably that the problem is now on the agenda which can help lead to ongoing discussion of the issue. It has been on the agenda for a long time at the Danish Maritime Authority. It is incorporated into everything we do. Every time we discuss new regulations, we also discuss whether they will lead to new forms having to be completed and hence more administration in an attempt to not increase administrative load,” reports Lars Gerhard Nielsen.