The term “safety culture” has been bantered around long before I came on the scene.

But what is safety culture? Is it the speech given by the CEO or some lower management level supervisor where it’s touted to the press and company personnel about how few accidents have been recorded in the past year? Is it the spending of mountains of money on the latest and greatest safety product on the market and the company splashing it all over their web site and in press releases? Could it be how many safety meetings and safety checks are made in any given period? Or should it be how each individual employee looks to their own safety as well as the safety of those around them? I believe the answer is the latter.

I have been in the professional marine environment for almost 50 years. Safety has always been one of my major pet peeves and has been taught to me and by me as I’ve moved up the chain of command. My experience spreads across the entire marine field from being a raw recruit in the Navy and eventually sailing in the submarine force, to sailing the deep seas on merchant ships, sailing inland and finally starting my own boat tour business to round out my career. I’m semiretired and still sail for my former employer as a fill in when they are shorthanded as well as my boat tours in the summer months. Safety has always played an important role in my adult life.        

So how do we obtain a safety culture that is the true essence of the term? This is, or should be, the goal of every organization, no matter its size or whether or not it's a marine company. That goal is to have the safest working environment for everyone in the company and more so if the company has anything to do with the public. The fancy speeches and fact spouting about low accident numbers and the newest safety gadgets being utilized won’t hold up if there isn’t an individual safety culture ingrained in each and every person in the company. That expensive piece of safety gear bought during the last convention the management team attended won’t provide the safety net sought if each individual doesn’t have a highly developed personal safety culture that they personally hold themselves responsible for maintaining.

“Safety starts at the top,” is a true statement because if the top of the organization doesn't stand fully behind their words, the work force will see right through their façade. But it doesn’t stop at the top either. Upper management has to be the catalyst to start and then foster the safety culture all the way through the work force. Once it appears to have been accepted by the work force, management needs to nurture it and constantly be alert to any wavering.

Safety isn’t expensive. But it is, you say, especially when you add up the cost of safety equipment, PPE and various safety gear. But I’m not talking about the material needed in today’s environment that is required to meet OSHA and/or USCG requirements. I’m speaking entirely of the mind set each individual needs to be safe. If the mind set isn’t there, then all of that expensive PPE and other safety items won’t work because it won’t be used or maintained properly.

The “individual safety mindset” is the key to the entire safety culture an organization wants to have and be known for. If each employee has a safety mindset then all the organization has to do is to keep it from stagnating by “talking the talk and then walking the walk.”

In the part two of my blog, we will explore ways on how to instill a safety mindset in employees.

Richard McCann lives in Cape May, NJ and in 2018 retired Captain from the Cape May Lewes Ferry; and is the founding member of Ballast Marine Services, LLC in 2015; and is a member of the Passenger Vessel Association, member # 552950.