Safety Management Systems For Commercial Vessels

Telling owners that they need to implement a safety management system (SMS) when they have doing their job in many cases for decades is always an interesting conversation.

Since the ISM code was made mandatory in the big ship world, many Domestic Commercial Vessel regulators around the world have implemented their own “mini” or watered down ISM code to suit smaller vessel operators.

Many industry and regulatory “experts” suggest that implementing a SMS is difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

This is not true.

If safety management activities are complex and expensive, then they are doing something wrong.

Managing safety is ultimately about managing risk – a simple concept that is often lost in academic models and 300-page safety manuals. Managing safety is not about making things more complicated and “user unfriendly.” An effective SMS that actually adds value while elevating the level of safety within an organisation and is easily understood and “user-friendly.”

I’ve had the opportunity to review the SMSs of several types of operators – large, small, international, domestic, and the most effective SMSs are not complex; instead, they are streamlined and easy to understand.

An example of reducing unnecessary complexity is an operator who tries to put every conceivable procedure in their SMS rather than their normal operating procedures. The operators with an ineffective SMS seem to focus more on managing the complexities of their SMS rather than managing safety itself.

The safety information should be readily available and easily accessed for all employees.

Safety Management Systems

Employees should not be forced to perform several steps just to get the safety information in front of them to read. Also, the safety information itself should be as brief and to-the-point as possible. Simplify the reporting and form management by managing this all in one place is key. There are many smaller vessel operators now operating paperless and using technology effectively.

It is a myth that SMSs are better suited for large vessel operators, smaller operators actually have an advantage when it comes to incorporating an SMS because the smaller the operation, the easier it is to communicate and implement the steps needed to run an effective SMS. Regardless of the size of the operation, all successful SMSs will include the basic elements as defined originally in the ISM code, however they need to ensure that:

  • Top-level management is committed to safety
  • Systems are in place to ensure hazards are reported in a timely manner
  • Action is taken to manage risks
  • The effects of safety actions are evaluated.

Effective SMSs make good economic sense. An effective SMS not only allows vessel operators to become more proactive in identifying and avoiding major hazards but also reduces the number of minor incidents an operator will experience over time.
An effective SMS will lead to improved communication, higher workplace morale, and increased productivity.

Marine Surveyors often ask vessel operators if they have an SMS and they are also asked to assist with writing a SMS. Surveyors should always involve the vessel owners and crew in developing a SMS as an effective SMS has credibility, which leads to everyone’s involvement.

If the SMS is just sitting there and not really doing anything to make the operation safer and more efficient, then you need to look at how they are really managing safety. Chances are, the safety management activities are too complex and more reactive than proactive.

As complexity increases, participation decreases. Without participation, an SMS can never be effective. Keep it simple!

Keep the Safety Management process simple and effective with a little help from Ocean Time Marine. We can help you create a safe working environment that allows you to get the most out of your vessel operations.

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