Business pressure can compromise marine safety, study shows

What’s more, a full 78% of those workers believe commercial pressures can compromise safety. Despite the historical trend toward better regulations and improved safety, the authors report that business and workplace pressures can dissuade workers from speaking up about potential hazards.

But in general tugs and OSVs have better safety and compliance performance than larger cargo vessels, according to the report sponsored by Helm Operations, Victoria, British Columbia, which provides operations and maintenance management software to the tug and barge industry.

The 118-page paper, “The Impact of Crew Engagement and Organizational Culture on Maritime Safety in the Workboats and OSV Sectors,” is touted as the first comprehensive survey of worldwide workboat safety practices. It comes from six months of research by Catherine Austin and Isabelle Rojon of Fathom Maritime Intelligence, a maritime information consulting firm, and primary data collection and analysis by researchers Kate Pike and Emma Broadhurst of Southampton Solent University, both in the UK. 

Mariners interviewed for the study felt the U.S. has high safety standards compared to the rest of the world. 

“But there are mixed feelings about the safety culture in the Gulf of Mexico,” the authors reported. There are high safety standards on U.S. Gulf waters, and one respondent “commented that it was easy to replace crew in the Gulf of Mexico if they don’t comply with safety standards,” the authors said.

Another told them that “some companies have a very high level of safety culture — BP, Shell, Statoil etc. — whilst some smaller companies have a much lower level.”

Pike and Broadhurst analyzed close to 6,000 accident and casualty reports from 2011 and 2013 in European Union waters or involving EU-flagged vessels. They found most involved general cargo vessels, which also had the most serious occurrences. “In contrast, tugs and offshore support vessels were involved in comparatively few occurrences and recorded far less fatalities and injuries according to the data, suggesting that their safety performance may be superior to that of other vessel categories, such as cargo and passenger vessels,” the report said.

According to the data, the vast majority of inspected workboats registered no deficiencies at all or less than five deficiencies. 

A lot of societal and cultural factors could be at play, the report suggests. Those likely include varying degrees of deference to authority — including cultural reluctance to question authority — and less economic security felt by crews from poorer nations. But many mariners worry about the workplace repercussions of being identified with a negative incident. When it comes to reporting non-conformities or other less serious conditions, they can be seen as unnecessarily slowing down business, the report said. 

“In many situations, seafarers may consider making such reporting unmanly or unprofessional, or associate it with being judged negatively or even being reprimanded,” the report said. 

— Kirk Moore

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