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Sunday, 30 December 2012

Costa Concordia and two different safety cultures

I haven’t examined the details regarding the grounding of Costa Concordia, but it is obvious that the safety culture onboard wasn’t what it should be.
Reason (2000) defines safety as the “ability of individuals or organizations to deal with risks and hazards so as to avoid damage or losses yet still achieve their goals”. Reason also states that effective safety work needs experienced and educated participants that can navigate close to the limits of acceptable danger, without passing over the edge. Therefore safety is not only a function of technical measures in the design and construction of the ship. From Reason’s description, it is clear that many proactive measures are dependent on the knowledge of the crew and on the human factors onboard such as man-machine interfaces and watch systems.

According to Parker et al. (2006), a desirable safety culture does not just emerge; it is a result of many aspects. These aspects of safety culture can be summarized to define three basic areas of safety culture:

- Formal regulations and processes including, for example, methods for benchmarking, audit systems, and risk analysis.
- Competence and training including work quality and safety observations.
- Shared risk awareness

It is clear to me (and as it seems the people examining the grounding) that Costa Concordia lacked all three aspects mentioned above.

So onboard Costa Concordia safety was about fulfilling the necessary regulations with as little effort as possible (under the assumption that safety costs and that it is important to reduce the cost). Which is a common approach onboard ship’s today. Which is far from showing a shared risk awareness which only can be achieved were the crew continuously weighs the risk against possible gain for every alternative and make sure to take no unnecessary risks (under the sumption that safety is about taking smart choices).

If we instead look at the upcoming salvage it is a totally different ballgame. My experience of the salvage industry has shown me companies in a risky business that very effectively are weighing options and where safety is about taking smart choices. I expect that a salvage company without risk awareness will not survive long on the international arena. Salvaging is a dangerous activity and the feedback on the risk awareness is immediate.

I’ll would hope that more ship owners and operators tried to work for creating good safety cultures onboard their ships and not treating safety as a cost, but as an important competitive edge.

REASON, J., (2000) Safety paradoxes and safety culture, International journal of injury control and safety promotion, 7(1), pp. 3-14.
PARKER, D., LAWRIE M. AND HUDSON P., (2006) A framework for understanding the development of organisational safety culture, Safety Science, 44, pp. 551-562.

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