A Field Study in Shipping: Near Miss, A Mantra With Dubious Effect on Safety
Abstract: Safety is intertwined with learning, without learning safety would be a static construct. To advance, safety concepts and theories all rely on the art of processing knowledge and though learning attaining a contributing effect. In shipping, the abstract of a near-miss is promoted as ‘good business and economic sense because it can improve crew performance and reduce costs’. Studies have shown the challenges of what constitute safety learning and what can be learned from incidents (Drupsteen & Guldenmund, 2014), but less attention has been on the perception of how near-miss contribute to maritime safety. This research was conducted to explore the perception and experiences with maritime safety personnel, of how and why near-misses contribute to safety. Inspired by phenomenology, the lived experience was captured through ten semi-structured qualitative interviews of Captains, Owners representatives Recognised bodies and Maritime Administration. Explicating the data shows, that since the implementation of the ISM code in 2002, the responsibility and the power is perceived to have drifted from ship to shore - today safety is shared. What constitutes a near-miss is not absolute, but uniformed categories e.g. unsafe act and conditions, for managing the reports are recognized across the respondents. In the Tanker fleet segment, a ritual to fulfil KPI’s for reporting near-misses’ is imposed by Oil majors, but the purpose are opaque. In the hierarchies of Authority, Owner and Captain, the ritual is questioned, but for unknown reasons safety managers has not entered a dialogue with Oil Majors. The trade-off, not entering the dialogue, creates distrust and bureaucracy, and visualize the influence the Oil Majors’ have been given and how safety manifests itself. The ritual is perceived to increased ‘awareness’ that drives and secure the development of the SMS systems and highlights ‘unsafe’ behaviour. Whereas, Accident Pyramids, linear and latent failure models are the underpinning practice and understanding behind near-miss and classic safety improvements, lived experiences across the hierarchies tells another tale – it is not that simple, why a new understanding and view of safety is requested – a new language. Compared to safety, the language of learning is less advanced in shipping. How and if we learn are unchartered waters and the effect of near-miss - the outcome, is dominant by single-loop learning. Comprehending, that organizational learning is an essential complement to Safety, is a potential. A potential that is depended on the integration of an organizations capabilities to collect new knowledge and insight from events and pick-up the tacit knowledge to be shared in a framework of a learning organization. In other words, shipping needs to ‘learn how to learn’. To gain the benefits of learning, Organizational capabilities needs to progress beyond the classic linear thinking and embrace systemic thinking when exploring events and collecting knowledge, while considering how knowledge is to be shared to facilitate control and compliance, adaptive capacity or in combination. The effect of the knowledge collected and processed from near-miss events is perceived dubious, but in the hierarchy of Owners, a sign of an awakening – defying the ritual, indicates a change and a wish to view and master safety and learning through a new lens. Supporting organizational safety, future research should explore how safe work and organizational learning are interlinked. Further, the power mechanisms between Owners and Oil Majors should be made transparent to determine who has the power to progress safe operation.
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