Safety climate (republished)

Capt Mazlan


Captain M.H.Hamzah
Senior lecturer,
Advanced Nautical Studies Dept,
Malaysian Maritime Academy (ALAM)

The greatest power that a person possesses is a power to choose.
J Martin Kohe

Safety climate at sea high risk

Why do people still go to sea knowing that it is a high risk environment; the sea is unforgiving. The risk to life at sea is real. The loss of all life except one, the cook; on Bulk Jupiter in January 2015 is a reminder for all about the “fluid situation” at sea.

The security of vessels especially in pirate-prone waters is a constant nightmare to many shipmasters. The ship is a 24/7 business-environment; 365 days non-stop. Shipping is a business entity whereby making profit is the main reason for existence.

Safety climate requires the right mind-set

People who want to serve their nation will join the Navy but what type of people are serving the merchant fleets? We need the right mind-set just to survive life at sea. However, with the right talent, individuals will thrive at sea.

Those who opt for a career at sea must be fit for purpose. Shipping is customer-focus. Ships provide services to the customers. Seafarers need to be customer-centric. They work long hours at sea just to meet the shippers’ expectations. Nowadays, the paymasters are choosy. Many are looking for companies that provide great services at the lowest cost. Stiff competition tends to create the 4-seasons syndrome.

Impact of the 4 seasons on shipping

Spring and summer are good times; ships are maintained according to schedules.People are well-trained. All systems are in order. Autumn is the period of cuts; budgets etc. Winter is a sign of trouble; many ships are lying idle without any employments. The journey at sea seems like a cosine curve with ups and downs.

Out of concern for job-security, seafarers will try to imitate this 4-seasons syndrome played by shipping companies. Sometimes they will strictly obey the rules but cut-corners in order to meet objectives when the situation is dire. The economic cycles in the last decade tend to influence the “safety culture” in many shipping companies.

17 years of ISM can’t ensure 100% safety climate!

After 17 years implementing the International Management Code for the Safe Operation of Ships and for Pollution Prevention (International Safety Management (ISM) Code), we still have not been able to ensure a 100 percent safe and secure environment for people to work at sea.

Then again, even in the airline industry; which is self-regulated, it can never claim that it has a 100 percent safe and secure environment for people to work especially after the recent Germanwings incident.

Safety culture vs. safety climate?

“Safety culture” is a term coined after the Chernobyl disaster in 1986.

An organization with a “safety culture” is one that gives appropriate priority to safety and realises that safety has to be managed like other areas of the business. For the shipping industry, it is in the professionalism of seafarers that the safety culture must take root.
(International Maritime Organisation (IMO) website)

Costa Concordia and Deepwater Horizon incidents reminded us to dig deeper in understanding the meaning of “safety culture”.

…. “safety climate” is “what we actually do or not do”. (Maritime error management p 61)

“Safety climate” in maritime academies will mirror the events on board ships at sea. The ability to inculcate and instil the right “safety climate” will ensure an accident free working environment, a clean ocean and a safe ship. Time spent by students on campus should be used to condition proper “safety climate”. Maritime academies need to include “safety climate” in their next indoctrination exercises.

“Safety culture” is usually top-down approach; push through our throats. “Safety climate” is who we really are. It is about the real self. “Safety climate” is a choice and it is ours! All happenings in the learning environment is a good barometer of our “safety climate”.


01. Maritime error management by Geoffrey W Gill
02. International Maritime Organisation (IMO) website

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