NWA analyses accountability for maritime accidents

Existing procedural approaches to safety management and incident analysis may be failing to enable effective handling of risk, and hindering efforts both to establish accountability for, and to learn from, maritime accidents, says the UK’s National Workboat Association.

This is the provocative theme of a workshop to be held next week by the trade, skills and safety standards association for the workboat industry. The session, entitled ‘Balancing Safety and Accountability’ will bring together representatives from UK and European workboat operators, alongside leading safety experts, to discuss new mechanisms for creating a ‘just culture’ within maritime organisations.

While major accidents in the maritime sector are now few and far between, when they do occur, they often highlight insufficiencies in the way safety issues are managed across the industry. Reactive and proactive measures, such as incident investigation and seeking non-conformance with procedures and regulations, have lost momentum as a means of managing and controlling risks.

Indeed, safety management systems, originally designed to bring structure and clarity to these processes, may become counterproductive, by posing an obstacle when it comes to driving improvements. When accidents happen, shore-based management teams commonly invoke the failure of front-end personnel to adhere to safety procedure, without taking the time to properly investigate and understand the circumstances.

Led by Oessur Hilduberg, head of the Danish Maritime Accident Investigation Board and Nippin Anand, a leading safety specialist in the maritime industry, the NWA Safety Workshop will provide an opportunity for representatives from all maritime management disciplines – from Masters and Superintendents to shore-based management and HSE managers – to discuss and develop new ways of thinking about incident investigation and analysis.

In particular, it will aim to introduce innovative mechanisms for establishing a ‘just culture’ that balances commercial and safety goals, facilitates management-level understanding of the challenges faced by personnel on board and promotes learning and improvement to drive safety standards.

“When something goes wrong, it can be convenient to swiftly assign blame to somebody who was not following procedure,” said Nippin Anand, leading safety specialist in the maritime industry.

“In many organisations, the infrastructure and knowledge to facilitate an understanding of alternative perspectives simply isn’t in place. However, in order to drive standards, we must collectively start to appreciate that ‘following the procedures’ is not always as simple as it sounds on paper.”

Mark Ranson, Secretary of the NWA, added: “The National Workboat Association is committed to driving initiatives that re-shape the thinking of the industry when it comes to crucial safety and best practice matters. At the upcoming workshop, we’ll be inviting our members to actively participate in reconsidering the way incident analysis and accountability is viewed at an organisational level.”

The ‘Balancing Safety and Accountability’ Safety Workshop is an exclusive event for NWA members, taking place in Manchester on 22nd March 2017. For more information, and details about membership of the NWA, please contact secretary@workboatassociation.org.

By Jake Frith

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