Creating ‘openness’ to ensure safety

By Michael Rogers

SAYFR training can reach an entire organisation at the same time, with the right data-driven learning content and in a way that is engaging – with learning as the key focus
SAYFR training can reach an entire organisation at the same time, with the right data-driven learning content and in a way that is engaging – with learning as the key focus (photo: SAYFR)

For more than 20 years the safety consultants in SAYFR, a Propel company, have worked to identify why some companies have been involved in major incidents, while others haven’t – and what sets the two groups apart. The company’s work has led to a strategy that goes well beyond the traditional “check-list” approach to fulfilling safety requirements to build an environment that encourages collaboration for safety.

Over the years, we’ve heard much about how a company needs a “Safety Culture” to foster awareness that will lead to incident avoidance. Yet, a recent industry survey by Propel reveals that for the most part, companies’ efforts to encourage a culture of safety have fallen short. While intentions are good, there’s a lack of understanding about how well implemented procedures actually work.

From a practical perspective, to ensure that safety requirements are met, Propel’s SAYFR strategy is to create simulated situations in which participants can learn the value of working together to ensure a positive outcome, both when an incident occurs as well as managing threats before they become a problem.

“If companies improve their safety culture and leadership behaviours, they will see dramatic improvements in ship safety that will save lives, avert catastrophes and bring down costs” – Dr Torkel Soma, partner and senior consultant at Propel

Beyond safety culture
Dr Torkel Soma, a partner and senior consultant at Propel, describes how the company’s philosophy works. “We’ve been looking at major accident investigations for decades. At some level, the safety culture is important – but safety culture is a very broad term, so we try to narrow it down to what it is that specifically makes the difference,” he says. “We focus on what makes a difference because we see that some of the major accidents have some commonalities – some things are reoccurring in a lot of these accidents. So, that’s what we try to tap into – to understand and to address.”

He explains that the problem is that concerns often go unreported. “What we’ve seen is that in most major accidents, someone knew about deficiencies and failures before the accident happened. So, we have tried to understand why – when this knowledge is there – it isn’t shared and addressed before it escalates into a critical situation.”

And it’s more than just being proactive, Dr Soma suggests. “It’s a mindset, because everybody wants to be proactive,” he says. “But, in what way do they want to be proactive? There are already many audits and inspections focusing on whether people are following safety procedures – a lot of focus on doing things right. And when there’s that much focus on doing everything right, there’s vulnerability, because it can lead to hidden, unaddressed failures.”

“For us, the difference is to create a situation in which someone is ‘allowed’ to make failures and share the information,” explains Dr Soma, describing the SAYFR training platform that aims to deal with the fear of failure that audits and inspections can instil. “We see that if you have that in place, the frequency of personal injuries drops, and the frequency of serious accidents drops significantly.”

A new approach
Propel’s survey results revealed that many safety models are lacking. According to Dr Soma, “Our study examined the major models explaining safety culture, and out of those, 43 different models, only 3 were found to include a process to validate that they actually address the right aspects.”

“We have done a lot of work to show that our model explains – and addresses – what is valid, and that our measurements are reliable,” he continues. “What we’re doing is to ask everyone in the company about ‘openness’, and we use that as a benchmark, comparing one company to another – one department to another.”

Dr Soma describes how the process works: “Basically, we start with two steps. First, we determine the maturity of the company and assess the challenges. The second is to implement our learning platform to follow up. It’s based on 3-D model that is exactly the same as a company’s site, so you can actually walk around ‘on board’ the unit and talk to people.”

It’s human nature to make mistakes – SAYFR 3D scenarios encourage trainees to practice and develop critical thinking to handle these threats and failures
It’s human nature to make mistakes – SAYFR 3D scenarios encourage trainees to practice and develop critical thinking to handle threats and failures (illustration: SAYFR)

Rather than focusing only on an individual’s experience, SAYFR training emphasises teamwork. “We focus especially on the openness in the culture – and we work with an ‘environment’ of people – what happens between people involved in the training,” adds Dr Soma. “If you are in your own unit, you have the people around you – and the way that you interact with other people influences the chance of having an accident.”

Propel’s two decades of experience provides a backdrop to challenge those who train. “We have looked into all these major accidents and take the scenarios from these into the 3-D model,” Dr Soma says. “So, someone can influence the outcome – if you do everything right, you won’t experience an ‘accident’. But most will try and fail – and then there will be an ‘accident’ – and then they can learn from the experience and try over again.”

Dr Soma emphasises that in addition to the process of learning from mistakes, trainees want to succeed. “And it’s set up so that people are more engaged, and they want to repeat it,” he relates. “And then you can measure how much they’ve learned – not only that someone has taken the training.”

Beyond the code
Dr Soma points to the intention of the IMO’s International Safety Management (ISM) Code, which established safety-management objectives to counter major accidents – but he stresses that the ISM Code has its limitations. “So even though we focus on the procedures, on the management system, there are other things that actually drive the company’s major accident risk,” Dr Soma explains.

“So, what we see is that the ISM Code is mainly good for things that have to do with individuals –wearing your PPE, such as your helmet, and that you use your checklist. But preventing major accidents is the result of how people collaborate – and that is more than just following procedures.”