What a Safety Management System Can Do For Your Shipping Company

What a Safety Management System Can Do For Your Shipping Company

Published July 27, 2023

3 minute read

The shipping industry has made remarkable progress in the world of safety over the last decade. In the UK alone, the number of crew members injured in 2019 was 105, which is less than half of the 222 injured in 2010. At the same time, there was a total of 289 lost time incidents in 2019, which dropped by more than 45% to 156 in 2021.

Tremendous steps forward have been made, but we can do more! 

The first step is choosing the right safety management system to suit your organisation and your fleet’s unique needs. How do you know a given solution will work for you? Broadly speaking, it needs to do the following: 

  • Comply with the International Safety Management Code (ISM Code) 
  • Centralise and simplify your policy manual/procedures documents 
  • Empower your employees to create a safer environment and actively participate 
  • Give your decision-makers the data they need to make more informed decisions 

Let’s take a closer look at what this could mean for your organisation’s EHS culture. 

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Compliance with Shipping Standards and the International Safety Management Code 

According to the ISM Code, a shipping company’s Safety Management System (SMS) needs to include the following:  

  • Commitment from top management 
  • Policy manuals 
  • Procedures documents for normal operations and emergency situations 
  • Procedures for conducting internal and external audits 
  • Designated person ashore (the link between the ships and shore staff) 
  • System for identifying where actual practices are not met 
  • Regular management review 

Some shipping companies may attempt to maintain all of this with a paper-based or spreadsheet-based system. However, most will soon discover that they need something more. Achieving compliance is not the goal. Maintaining constant compliance is the goal, and this involves building a culture of safety. Everyone needs to be involved in safety, from the top-level executives to the front-line workers on the ship. And your SMS needs to touch all aspects of your business. 

a bird's eye view of a shipping company at port

Simplified and Centralised Documentation 

As you saw in the previous section, the code requires documentation for the following items: 

  • Policy manuals 
  • Procedures documents for normal operations and emergency situations 
  • Procedures for conducting internal and external audits 

However, maintaining a safe environment requires considerably more paperwork and documents. This may include: 

  • Personnel files that include certifications and qualifications 
  • Equipment/technical manuals 
  • Inspection forms 
  • Accidents and incident investigations 
  • Risk assessments 
  • Hazardous substances 
  • Noise surveys and investigations 
  • Fire safety checks: Including alarm systems, emergency lighting, extinguishers, fire doors 
  • Much, much more 

Ask yourself the following questions: If an employee needs to find the proper hazardous waste policies and procedures, do they know where to find them? If an EHS manager wants to prepare a report on the recent inspections, is that data readily accessible? 

Your safety management system needs to provide a hub for all such documents, and any others that facilitate your day-to-day safety culture. 

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Encourage Employees to Participate in the Safety Management System 

Safety always starts on the frontline of any shipping company. The most modern tools and equipment are no good to your organisation if your front-line staff doesn’t know how to use them– Or, even worse, they view these new tools as a burdensome extra step. 

Smartphone technology is a game changer for safety cultures. Your employees no longer need to deal with clipboards, forms, or tickets to perform crucial safety activities such as:

  • Equipment inspections 
  • Hazard identifications  
  • Incident reporting 

If they’re able to carry out these tasks with a few quick taps on a smartphone, you’re going to see a considerably more engaged workforce and a much safer workplace. 

More Data For Decision-Makers. More Informed Decisions 

One of the biggest problems that EHS teams in the shipping sector face is incomplete, inaccessible, or stale data. They don’t have the real-time data they need to address any emerging incidents before they become serious problems. 

Their leading indicator (inspections, hazard IDs, near-misses, etc.) data sets will often arrive on their desk too late to make actionable changes to impact their lagging indicators (injuries, lost-time-incidents, etc.). 

At the same time, they don’t have the data they need to make informed recommendations to the C-Suite and higher-ups about potential investments and changes they could make to improve the safety culture.  

Once again, data begins at the frontline. If your employees have a simple digital solution to carry out their crucial safety activities, that data will be instantly propagated upward to their supervisors. Now, your EHS team has complete and accurate data on what’s happening right now, what happened yesterday, and what happened this week. The data is not one or two months old by the time it’s collected and analysed by the EHS team. 

Choosing the Right Safety Management System for Your Shipping Company

Want to know if a given solution is right for your needs? Check out our video on the five points you need to consider before picking a safety management system that will help your organisation achieve its safety goals. 

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Author Ryan LeClaire

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