Tor Svensen, speaking in Oslo on May 23 about the apparent deterioration in maritime safety statistics investigated by DNV indicate that the improvement in maritime safety has bottomed out, and may even have reversed, a situation that has prompted the class society to call for a culture change.
According to Tor Svensen, Det Norske Veritas president, three important areas require focus in order to achieve further safety improvements:
- Improving the safety culture;
- More effective and targeted training;
- Regular competence assessments of onboard personnel.
Speaking in Oslo in advance of Nor-Shipping, Svensen said: “A downward trend in safety statics creates concerns and it is now time to reinstall the balance between safety and environmental risk. A greater focus on the human elements and competence in the shipping industry is needed.”
Svensen suggested out that public focus had moved to environmental risk, taking attention away from human safety and personnel risk. Moreover, much of the training given to seafarers was of poor or doubtful quality, there being a vast difference between gaining a certificate and achieving a satisfactory level of on-the-job competence.
Navigational errors still play the dominant role, accounting for over 50% of accidents. Svensen said that due to the combined efforts of the industry, including owners, charterers, classification societies and port state authorities, the accident rate decreased year by year for more than 20 years. This trend stopped almost a decade ago, and over the past few years an increased rate has been reported.
“The shipping industry is facing different challenges. There is now a high focus on the environment, and this is leading to major changes. In my mind, it is now time to reinstall the balance between safety and environmental risk. Zero tolerance for loss of life is equally as important as zero environmental damage,” Svensen said.
“The industry will always have to balance safety and other priorities, but the negative trend in accident rates indicates that we are no longer managing to get the balance right,” he added.
DNV says that over many years it has collected and analyzed data related to all aspects of safety at sea. Thousands of feedback forms have been addressed to major ship-owners, and these have been completed and returned by all levels of these organizations – both onshore and on board vessels.
“We cannot design ourselves away from the human elements,” is Svensen’s reaction. “Safety can never be completely regulated. Individual competence and behavior will always be key elements in managing safety. As in all industries, there are conflicting goals in shipping too. Recognizing this, I believe we first of all have to focus on improving the safety culture. Secondly, the quality of training and development of more tailor-made training modules based on actual experience and competence requirements are other key issues. Finally, training has to be followed up and regular competence assessments for at least all the main officer positions are needed.”
Svensen believes that there have been real improvements, for example 30 years ago statistics suggested that a tanker was likely, on average, to have two accidents in its 30-year life span. That figure has come down to one accident per two tankers during the same time. Nevertheless, the downward trend has reversed, and shipping needs to act – he suggests it can learn from the way the aviation industry addresses training issues and competence assessments.